Barack Obama is taking heat, deservedly, for his foolish boast that al Qaeda was “on the run.” Some of his detractors have mocked him on Twitter by rewriting one of his campaign slogans to read “Al Qaeda is alive and Detroit is dead.” The president retracted his earlier claim on Tuesday, saying instead that “al Qaeda is on its heels,” but even that more modest formulation fails to gibe with his having closed 21 embassies in the Middle East and Africa due to terrorist chatter.
Since, moreover, he made the concession on the soft couch at “The Tonight Show,” he knew he was unlikely to be challenged.
But misjudging al Qaeda is not Obama’s only foreign policy failure. James Taranto compares what the commander-in-chief said to Jay Leno about Russia the other night with what he said during the presidential debates last fall.
Here is Obama with Leno. The subject is Russia’s having granted asylum to Edward Snowden:
I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law-breaker or an alleged law-breaker in their country, we evaluate it and we try to work with them. They didn’t do that with us. And in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately. A lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship, and they still help us on supplying our troops in Afghanistan; they’re still helping us on counterterrorism work; they were helpful after the Boston bombing in that investigation. And so there’s still a lot of business that we can do with them.
But there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.
And here is during the presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2012:
Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al Qaeda; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.
But Obama has been “disappointed” in Russia before. When the former Soviet Union tested both candidates for the presidency in 2008 by sending troops into the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, candidate Obama tsk-tsked. He called for an end to the violence, but stopped short of assigning blame, or making strong demands on Moscow. “I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict,” he said. The guy who didn’t elected was far more presidential in his posture, stating that “Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”
In addition, recall Obama’s gaffe in March of 2012, when, believing the microphone was off, he audaciously assured outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with contentious issues like missile defense after he won re-election. Obama was sadly correct in predicting a second term for himself, but one might ask him about his prediction of greater flexibility.
One might also ask why Obama is so concerned about bilateral disarmament with Russia when some genuinely bad actors (read Iran and North Korea) have acquired or are in the process of acquiring nukes. If anyone is mired in the Cold War, it seems to be Obama.
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