Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Milbank: Obama, dictator or pushover?

By Dana Milbank

The Washington Post

First Published Mar 04 2014 10:38 am • Last Updated Mar 04 2014 01:32 pm

President Obama is such a weak strongman. What’s more, he is a feeble dictator and a timid tyrant.

That, at any rate, is Republicans’ critique of him. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Obama’s critics pivoted seamlessly from complaining about his overreach to fretting that he is being too cautious. Call it Operation Oxymoron.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Last Wednesday, I sat in a House hearing and listened to Republicans describe Obama exercising "unparalleled use of executive power" and operating an "uber-presidency." They accused him of acting like a "king" and a "monarch," of making the United States like a "dictatorship" or a "totalitarian government" by exercising "imperial" and "magisterial power."

But after events in Ukraine, this very tyrant was said to be so weak that it’s "shocking."

"We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proclaimed Sunday on CNN.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday that Obama has "a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore."

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, told Bloomberg News that "we’re projecting weakness." And Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Fox News that the administration is "playing marbles" and that the Russians are "running circles around us."

In theory, it is possible for Obama to rule domestic politics with an iron fist and yet play the 98-pound weakling in foreign affairs. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense that one person would vacillate between those two extremes. A better explanation is Obama’s critics are so convinced that he is wrong about everything that they haven’t paused to consider the consistency of their accusations.

Obama is neither tyrant nor pushover. In general, the criticism of him being inconsistent and indecisive is closer to the mark. But the accusation that he has been feckless in Ukraine is still dubious because those demanding a stronger response have been unable to come up with one.

After Obama threatened Friday that "there will be costs" to Russia’s action in Ukraine, my colleague Charles Krauthammer, who in the past likened the president to Napoleon, said on Fox News that "everybody is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement."


story continues below
story continues below

But if Obama had made specific threats toward Russia, he would have set himself up for the conservatives’ criticism of his Syria policy — that he was drawing "red lines" he wasn’t prepared to enforce. And suppose he were willing to draw red lines and back them up with military might? Inevitably, he’d be accused of trying to distract from Obamacare or other domestic troubles, as he was when he threatened a military strike on the Syrian regime.

Even critics of the "weak" Obama response don’t propose a military response in Ukraine. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, there was, similarly, no consideration of military action by President George W. Bush’s administration, and Vladimir Putin got away with his aggression.

So what would Obama’s critics have him do? Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., published an eight-point plan for Ukraine in Politico magazine over the weekend. But it included things that the president is already doing (sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev) or that are strictly symbolic (forcing Russia to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution, even though conservatives routinely dismiss the United Nations).

Another of the "decisive" actions Rubio proposed: stalling confirmation of Rose Gottemoeller, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control. Paul Waldman, in the American Prospect, imagined the delay of this obscure official’s confirmation causing Putin to "bellow with rage."

Putin also would be swayed, no doubt, by Rubio’s "decisive" call to boycott the June G-8 summit in Russia; Obama, by contrast, had merely cut off planning for the gathering. The difference between the two positions is one of fine calibration, not a contrast between strong and weak.

But the condemnation continues, unrestrained by consistency. The conservative commentariat has turned on a dime from talk of "King Obama" to worry about the "price of weakness" and the president’s missing "backbone."

A little over a month ago, the Heritage Foundation president, former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., called Obama a "playground bully" and an "imperial president." Now DeMint accuses him of making "weak statements" that will "only invite aggression."

Six weeks ago, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a Senate candidate, posted a photo of Obama on Facebook with the messages "Stop the imperial president" and "Stop the Obama power grab." Now Cotton has issued a statement accusing the president of "trembling inaction."

Grabbing power with trembling inaction? Only the most diffident of despots could pull that off.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.