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Hither and Yon

Obama, man of peace and not of war, has yet to back up his words with action

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, EastAsiaIntel.com
President Obama might be considering the motto on which Woodrow Wilson ran for president in 1916 as his enduring legacy: “He kept us out of war.” That is, if he can forget that Wilson, after election to his second term, reversed course and sent American soldiers to Europe, tipping the balance in favor of England and France against the Germans in World War I.
Obama is barred by the U.S. Constitution from seeking a third term, but at every turn in his presidency he has opted for scaling down U.S. forces overseas, backing away from battle, preferring diplomacy and rhetoric to bloodshed and carnage.
He’s had a lot to say about Russia’s takeover of Crimea from the Ukraine, about Russian infringement in the Eastern Ukraine, about Russia’s war in Syria. He decried Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and he lamented the loss of much of Iraq to ISIS after withdrawing U.S. troops who had fought for the country since his predecessor, George W. Bush, ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And he’s also warned against China’s claims to almost all the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, some of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
But what has Obama done beside talk the talk? Is he capable of walking the walk?
Far be it from me to suggest that he really should be ordering tens of thousands of soldiers into Eastern Europe or the Middle East, but the nature of the confrontation there may leave whoever succeeds him as president with very little choice. Obama did have a chance to order the bombing of Syria’s chemical warfare facilities but instead fell for a deal of which the Russians heartily approved under which Assad would have them destroyed on his own.
Anti-war enthusiasts applauded Obama at the time for his forbearance. There was an audible sigh of relief from those who warned bombing those facilities would risk war. And now what? Russia has gone to war on Assad’s behalf against ISIL rebels and also against moderate foes who’ve been fighting his dictatorship for years.
The U.S. is in a total quandary. Assad may be a dictator over those people whom he controls, but he’s also a puppet whom Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is manipulating to assert Russian control over the country.
That’s appropriate since Russia already is on fine terms with the regime in Teheran, with which the U.S. has led multilateral negotiations for a controversial agreement under which Iran promises not to make nuclear warheads.
This deal may be worth a shot despite loud warnings from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but you have to wonder about the Russian connection. It’s disturbing that Iran is a staunch supporter of Assad in Syria.
More disturbing is that both Iran and Syria over the years have received Rodong and Scud missiles made in North Korea. Nor should we forget that North Korea was building a nuclear facility in Syria until the Israelis bombed it in 2007 and that Iran and North Korea have exchanged nuclear technology and components.
Iranian engineers assisted in North Korea’s current program for building warheads with highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium, the basis for most of the warheads the North Koreans had been working on for years.
By the time the Russians started acting up from Ukraine to Syria, Obama had already demonstrated his aversion to armed conflict by living up to his campaign pledge of withdrawing U.S. soldiers from Iraq and vastly scaling down in Afghanistan.
Now the U.S. faces a dilemma in Iraq that parallels that in Syria. Iran is dedicated to fighting ISIL, as are the Americans, as are the Russians. The U.S. is not going to work militarily with either of them, however, knowing that their final goals are to install or maintain their own surrogates and sympathizers, beholden to them, not to the U.S.
Obama’s view is that diplomatic pressure will prevail when mingled with economic considerations, including development aid, especially since the American people don’t want war. That’s fine to a point. He would have a tough time now whipping up the popular support needed in the U.S. to send soldiers swarming through the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria. Also, there would be a serious risk of war with Russia, which nobody wants either.
Yet at a certain point someone’s got to make the hard decisions. That should be a matter of concern to President Park Geun-Hye as she meets Obama Friday, Oct. 16, for their long-awaited summit at the White House.
We’re pretty sure that Kim Jong-Un isn’t going to convert his bluster and bombast into a second Korean War, at least not right away, but how much can South Korea trust Obama’s repeated firm expressions of military support? Would he have the nerve to rush in what it took to fend off a shock North Korean attack as President Truman did in 1950?
With any luck, we’re not going to get an answer to those questions since North Korea isn’t gearing up to attack ― at least right now.
But are we fully aware that Obama, a man of peace, not war, has not stood up to Russian moves and menaces anywhere?
In the end, some U.S. president is going to have to respond with more than words and less-than-effective air strikes.
Columnist Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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