A strategy! A strategy! They say that’s what we’re needing
On Russia and the Middle East we’re everywhere receding.
But if we have a plan and then the opposition checks it,
Do any of the strategies include a way to exit?           

            Qquestioned about his response to the problems in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine Obama, Obama responded “We don’t have a strategy yet”. This, together with an earlier summation: “Don’t do stupid stuff” (bowdlerized from the original “stupid shit”) caused pundits from all sides to shake their heads in wonder. In the New York Times Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham were incredulous. The President of the most powerful nation on earth without a strategy? They demanded that he “stop dithering and confront ISIS now.” Fellow Democrat Hilary Clinton insisted that “don’t do stupid stuff” is not a foreign policy organizing principle”.

            Cartoonists poured on the ridicule. Gary Varvel had Obama reading “Foreign Policy for Dummies.” Ramirez depicted Jimmy Carter on his knees clutching Obama and thanking him for being an even worse foreign policy president than he had been. Jeff Darcy, riffing on Obama’s performance at the White House Correspondents dinner, showed him as our “Comedian-in-Chief”, but indicating “the joke stops here” at all his policy failures. For Robert Ariail Obama’s a traffic cop whose tweets are ignored as vehicles from Russia, Syria, and Venezuela go zooming by. Several others picture Obama as out-muscled by Putin, or helpless before the various Muslim onslaughts. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd mocked “Barack Seneca Obama, his air of disconnection …his strange pattern of detachment, and his adamantine belief that his Solomonic wisdom and Spocky calm can help him resist the siren songs to disaster.” And Dowd joined other pundits and several cartoonists in jibing at Obama’s  playing golf while the problems piled up at home and abroad,

            But the mockers, too, were mocked. Peter Beinart in The Atlantic scorned “the unbearable emptiness” of the McCain-Graham attack, He accused them of producing arguments with “an onion-like quality. Peel away the layers of grave-sounding but vacuous rhetoric, and you’re left with almost nothing intellectually nourishing at all.” Maureen Dowd’s dislike of Obama is exceeded only by her distaste for Hilary Clinton: “With the diplomatic finesse of a wrecking ball, the former diplomat gave an interview…in a calculated attempt to be tough and show that, as a Democratic woman, she was not afraid to use power.” Conan O’Brien suggests “she either want to be a president or a Fox News anchor.”And the snide comments about Obama’s golf-playing were countered by Andy Borowitz, quoting an alleged GOP chief: “With international crises boiling in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, it’s unconscionable that the President is having breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

            Among the cartoonists Toles depicts Uncle Sam insisting “we have to act fast…sending in fresh American arms…to defeat rebels who are using stolen American arms…before they are stolen.” And Danziger is repeatedly on the anti-militarist side. One cartoon asks us to choose between a ferocious Assad and a blood-thirsty ISIS. Another  reminds us of the ignominious ending to Vietnam with a helicopter hovering over Iraq while an American soldier says: “Tell the pilot to leave it up on the roof. We may need it”. And in a third cartoon he shows us “War” presenting a bill for 4 trillion dollars to an exhausted Uncle Sam with a question: “Dessert?”

             Obama clearly does not want to pay for the dessert. His aims, apart from   shifting America’s focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Far East, were to avoid being drawn into any more long-drawn-out military entanglements, and to cut military spending. The contemporary demands for a “strategy” are, in fact, demands for involvements that inevitably cost more money. In the event, Obama, impelled by events (and perhaps by being ridiculed as a wimp) has now moved in directions which demand more military outlays – a long-term confrontation with ISIS, and a clear guarantee of the territorial integrity of  NATO members bordering Russia. This will still not constitute a sufficient strategy for McCain and Graham and perhaps Hillary Clinton. It will be too assertive for others.

            Come what may, in a turbulent world torn by a confusing maelstrom of economic, religious and territorial rivalries it is beyond the power even of the United States to design a global strategy that will serve in all contingencies.

In fact: 

We’ll pivot to the East, we said, with China as our focus.
And yet the same old trouble spots continue to provoke us.
There’s Syria and ISIS and there’s Putin’s constant scheming.
A strategy for all the world? I think you must be dreaming.


Posted on Monday, September 08, 2014 (Archive on Sunday, June 04, 2017)



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