Obama's Dereliction of Duty

Obama's Dereliction of Duty

By Mark Salter - September 27, 2012

I recently criticized Mitt Romney for making the ludicrous argument that a statement by an anxious American embassy official in Cairo constituted an Obama administration apology for American policies and values, and was thus part of a mea culpa mind-set that helped incite the mobs that besieged our embassy in Egypt and the terrorists who murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya. I wrote then and still believe that it was not Governor Romney's finest moment.

This week the president of the United States and purported leader of the free world breezed into New York City for a quick game of softball catch with the ladies of “The View,” and a drop-by at the United Nations General Assembly to give a speech. Then he was off to Ohio to resume his most pressing engagement, his re-election campaign, having refused to be detained by pesky world leaders whose requests to meet with him were rebuffed en mass.

Of the two transgressions, Romney’s specious charge and Obama’s dereliction of duty, the latter is by far the most egregious.

The world must be more tranquil than it appears to be on television to afford the commander-in-chief the luxury of exiting the world stage, which this week is located in New York, for the ruder rigors of the campaign trail.

To the untrained eye it seems quite the opposite, what with anti-American mobs raging for the better part of two weeks throughout the Muslim world, deadly terrorist attacks on American diplomats in Libya and American soldiers in Afghanistan, the bloody Syrian civil war, increasing sectarian strife in Iraq, the Eurozone crisis that occasioned riots in Spain this week, and various other worrying developments.

Meetings between the president and various heads of state would not instantly ameliorate any of these problems. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who’s been designated as a sort of acting chief executive this week, will, I’m sure, manage the responsibility competently.

But when a president who is battling perceptions that America’s world leadership has been timid and uncertain lately, and who’s been credibly criticized for failing to develop the close relationships with foreign leaders that are useful for anticipating and shaping world events, gives foreign leaders the impression that he prefers Whoopi Goldberg’s company to theirs, he hardly increases his influence with them.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed any such concerns by giving reporters an emphatic civics lesson. “[W]hen you're president of the United States, your responsibility as commander-in-chief never ends, and you are constantly engaged in matters of foreign affairs and national security," he informed them.

Regarding Obama’s brief U.N. appearance and hasty exit, Carney insisted it had nothing to do with the re-election campaign. That explanation was belied by campaign aides who seemed to background every reporter and talking head in Washington that they refused the requests for meetings because they didn’t want to risk any hard-to-spin surprises that might arise during them and potentially trouble the president’s re-election. You never know when a hot mike will pick up the president making promises to a Russian autocrat that some voters might find worrying.

Also, “being constantly engaged in matters of foreign affairs and national security” can be downright inconvenient at times and rather tedious.

“Look, if he met with one leader,” an Obama aide lamented to the New York Times, “he’d have to meet with 10.”

This kind of political self-interest and cynicism has been a regular feature of Obama’s tenure in office. To my mind, the most telling example is his Afghanistan policy.

As he promised to do as a candidate four years ago, Obama dispatched more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But he insisted he would withdraw them by a specific date irrespective of whether they could complete their mission in that time. It might be overly suspicious of me, but I assume the purpose of substituting a date for an exit strategy was to allow the president to claim to American voters in 2012 that he was winding down our engagement in a war he had promised to win in 2008.

He is not the first occupant of the Oval Office to calculate his own interests before the nation’s, but such a failing can exacerbate the problems confronting the United States beyond our shores. Steadfastly refusing to play a leadership role -- or even recommending a coherent strategy -- to stop Bashar Assad from destroying his own country has worsened the very concerns the president cited as explanations for his inaction: a rebellion becoming an all-out civil war that destabilizes the region, and the participation of jihadists in the rebellion and its aftermath. In the process, Obama has managed to put the U.S. at odds with almost all countries concerned about Syria, friend and foe alike.

That’s quite an accomplishment.

Refusing bilateral meetings with foreign leaders is a small offense compared to his more damaging failures abroad. But it is further evidence that the White House incumbent believes his re-election is in the nation’s and the world’s paramount interest -- and that’s reason enough to vote for his challenger. 

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

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