State of the world, Year Eight of Barack Obama:
(1) In the South China Sea, on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty far from its borders, China just installed anti-aircraft batteries and stationed fighter jets. This after China landed planes on an artificial island it created on another disputed island chain. These facilities function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.
(2) Syria. Russian intervention has turned the tide of war. Having rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from collapse, Russian bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and demonstrating to the entire Middle East what a Great Power can achieve when it acts seriously.
The U.S. response? Pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its ally, Iran) in one collapsed peace conference after another.
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(3) Ukraine. Having swallowed Crimea so thoroughly that no one even talks about it anymore, Russia continues to trample on the Minsk cease-fire agreements, intensifying the fighting and advancing Vladimir Putin’s campaign to fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Obama still refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.
(4) Iran. Last Thursday, Iran received its first shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from Russia, a major advance in developing immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities. And it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia. This conventional weapons shopping spree is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council prohibitions. It was also a predictable consequence of the Iran nuclear deal.
The U.S. response? Words.
Three major have-not powers are seeking to overturn the post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern Europe, China in East Asia, Iran in the Middle East.
To say nothing of the Islamic State, now extending its reach from Afghanistan to West Africa. The international order built over decades by the United States is crumbling.
In the face of which, what does Obama do? Go to Cuba. A supreme strategic irrelevance so dear to Obama’s anti-anti-communist heart.
Is he going to celebrate progress in human rights and democracy – which Obama established last year as a precondition for any presidential visit? Of course not. Indeed, since Obama began his “historic” normalization with Cuba, the repression has gotten worse. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414 political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.
Amid global disarray and American decline, Obama sticks to his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo and, of course, climate change.
Obama did not to go to Paris in response to the various jihadi atrocities – sending Kerry instead – but he did make an ostentatious three-day visit there for climate change.
So why not go to Havana? Sure, the barbarians are at the gates and pushing hard knowing they will enjoy but 11 more months of minimal American resistance. But our passive president genuinely believes that that these disruptors are so on the wrong side of history, that their reaches for territory, power, victory are so 20th century.
Of course, it mattered greatly to the quarter-million slaughtered in Syria and the millions more exiled. It feels all quite real to a dissolving Europe, an expanding China, a rising Iran, a metastasizing jihadism.
Not to the visionary Obama, however. He knows what really matters: climate change, Gitmo and Cuba.
With time running out, he wants these to be his legacy. Indeed, they will be.