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The President Who Doesn't Get It

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By:William Murchison | February 17, 2015

A number of maxims surround the practice of war.

The main maxim runs to this effect: When you get attacked, fight back. Unless, to be sure, you don't care whether you win or lose—an option, to be sure, not given to American presidents and other national leaders, assuming, to be sure, they take with maximum seriousness their obligation to the security of their people and their people's freedom.

Days after the mass beheadings of Coptic Christians in Libya, profoundly serious questions linger in the air. Does Barack Obama know what's going on all around him? Does he have the slightest inkling?

Such questions have seemingly a sarcastic edge. No sarcasm is intended. Six years of practice seem to have left our president scratching around for clues to the meaning of all the current onslaughts against peace, order and human dignity. If George W. Bush was in many Americans' minds a club-wielding Neolithic when it came to foreign policy, Barack Obama is in many minds a daisy-picking amateur poet, detached from the large foreign policy questions swirling around him—detached nearly to the point of indifference.

It is not possible to remember in modern times a time when America's interests in the wider world seemed of such marginal concern to the keeper of those interests. Even Jimmy Carter, whom the cartoonist Jeff MacNelly shrewdly depicted as a traveling salesman entering a saloon dominated by a glowering Leonid Brezhnev, caught on eventually to the nature of the Soviet threat.

Obama seems only to gaze around curiously, amid occasional fusillades of moralistic rhetoric, as Islamic radicals and Russia's neo-czar pursue their distinct, and distinctly dangerous, agendas: larger and larger swaths of Ukrainian territory brought under Russian control, more innocent hostages beheaded or burnt alive by Allah's self-deputized avengers. The president of the United States, sometimes considered the most powerful man in the world, can't bring himself to believe that war—different in character from wars in the classic sense but war all the same—is going on, concocted by foes of his country's ideals, aimed at the reduction of American power to protect freedom.

Obama doesn't get it. He might be somewhere else in time or space. We don't have a president in these unsettling and slightly frightening times. We really don't. We have Barack Obama.

What does it mean to have Obama? It means to have in the White House a man unpersuadable as to the realities of power. To wish the matter otherwise is not to wish that Don Rumsfeld sat in the Oval Office, clad in military fatigues, barking orders into the telephone, ending every sentence with "Kill!" The wildest delusion of which Americans are capable is that defending freedom, in 2015, means replaying the Normandy invasion.

It does mean "boots on the ground"—most of them belonging to special forces and their support apparatuses, doing the hard work that the best-aimed bombs, delivered from above, can't accomplish. Obama has an ideological aversion to the commitment of troops. Yet what are troops for if not to commit, or making enemies fear commitment is on the way?

The second thing necessary to the defense of freedom is a strategy for that defense—a plan to get there. In the Obama administration we have "red lines" that mysteriously vanish; we have economic pressures we expect to do the job on their unaided own. And, of course, we have speeches, at which the president is particularly adept. What we lack in this very confusing time of shadow warfare—Russian soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians, terrorists springing out of ambush—are coherent designs, first to repel, second to discourage and warn off, the intruders.

It is all monumentally complex, yes—partaking of that complexity for which presidents sign on when they take the oath. Those unready to steer a straight path through complications, contradictions, false turnings and elephant traps would do better, say, to concentrate on organizing neighborhoods—a point that never occurred, apparently, to our best-known neighborhood organizer.


William Murchison's latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson. To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at




San Antonio
2/17/2015 07:22 PM

  Mr. Murchison you seem to have been infected by that dreaded Neocon disease that has infected so many. It is a disease as surely as Liberalism. The only people bitchin' about Obama not doing more are Neocons who just want an excuse to knock Assad over. This would of course allow the Sunnis to kill Christians more efficiently. As Buchanan has always said the U. S. has no business in the Middle East. In addition, as William Lind has said our military has not been reformed to fight 4th generation warfare. So putting troops in there will only allow the Americans to get there asses kicked yet again. Until the U.S., Europe, and Russia are on the same page the west will continue to flounder and shrink just as Byzantium did before us. The stupid bickering among Christians in Byzantium kept them from having a united front against Islam and eventually they were not in charge anymore. Stupid policies against Orthodox Russia are leading us down the same road. Mr. Murchison you know about as much about the Middle East as you know about Texas which is not very much. Obama at least knows that he already went into Libya one too many times.

Bryan Fox
2/17/2015 08:41 PM

  The Islamic sand dart wearing a T-shirt on his head in the middle of the Iraqi desert is not a threat to the average Texan. Especially not the Russians. The real threat is coming from our Southern border and their American facilitators. So Mr. Murchison, War from here to eternity, eh?

David F.
2/18/2015 10:23 AM

  While I have little argument with your critique of the Obama, I had to check that I was in fact reading *Chronicles* when you mentioned "...the American power to protect freedom." That's neocon argot, and what they mean by "freedom" is not anything most Chronicles readers (or the rest of the world, for that matter) want.

Senhor botero
2/18/2015 03:29 PM

  Question for the two commenters. When does a man act like a man and shut off the computer, stop hiding behind abstract name calling and complex thinking and just get to the root of things. When does he think in terms of morals and not political jargon. When does he see that the bully just flat out needs a good butt kicking. When does he decide that it is time. Is it only after he personally is threatened that any care can be stirred in him. Any white man acting like Obama has for 6 long years now would have been impeached and rightly so. This man is a threat to us all. I am no neocon and certainly no globalist but it does get frustrating to encounter people as trapped in their little sphere as seems to happen here quite often. Do you think ones ideology is always so true that no one else has anything to offer. Is this really any different then the liberal, the race baiter etc....

2/18/2015 09:25 PM

  I for one, support Big Bad Vlad for a neo-Tsar is most certainly better than an anarcho-tyrant like Obama. I stand by Assad and by Putin against ISIS, against Israel, and against the Neocons usurpers.


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