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Lewis Morris / September 29, 2015

Putin Keeps Taking Obama’s Lunch Money

The two leaders addressed the UN Monday, highlighting contrast.

In dueling speeches at Monday’s UN General Assembly meeting, Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded off in the latest round of tense relations between the U.S. and Russia. Unfortunately, because of Obama’s thoughtless foreign policy America is looking weak and clueless on the world stage.

Obama continued to rail against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. “We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated,” he declared. “If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today.” Of course, “stand by” is precisely what Obama has done with regard to Ukraine and Crimea.

“Stand by” has also been Obama’s “plan” with regard to Syria. And Putin has used the opportunity to bolster Russia’s presence in the Middle East. In a one-two punch this month, the Kremlin provided military support to bolster longtime Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad, and then — just in time for the UN confab — announced an intelligence sharing agreement with Syria, Iraq and Iran to combat the Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal explains the significance of that move for Iraq: “It’s hard to fault Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for the decision. He’s watched for a year while the U.S. coalition has made little progress against Islamic State. His decision risks putting Baghdad further under Tehran’s sway, and pushing more Iraqi Sunnis into Islamic State’s arms. But desperate leaders will act in desperate ways.”

One Iraqi militia leader put it this way: “We believe that Russia and Iran are serious about defeating ISIS while the U.S. doesn’t want to defeat ISIS. We wish that the Iraqi government wouldn’t trust or depend heavily on the U.S. because we’ve had a bad experience with the U.S. in this regard.”

So Obama has not only abandoned Iraq to the Islamic State, but to Iran and Russia.

Russia’s pledge to help Assad catches the U.S. flatfooted after Obama’s own pathetic attempts to combat ISIL in Syria have come to nothing. The haphazard air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria or in Iraq has had little impact on stopping the terror group’s territorial gains. And the embarrassing $500 million training program that led to a half-dozen pro-Western boots on the ground in Syria didn’t do much more to instill confidence in America’s abilities. In fact, the program has been suspended.

On the positive side, Obama in his remarks promoted the Islamic State from “JV team” to “apocalyptic cult.” Baby steps.

Fox News’ Brit Hume surmised, “Obama’s speech at the UN [Monday] encapsulated perfectly notions that have long driven his foreign policy. He looks upon the behavior of America’s adversaries as not simply self-interested or even evil but mainly outdated, old-fashioned. … Obama warns America against ‘a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China or a resurgent Russia, a revolutionary Iran or Islam that is not compatible with peace.’ While those may sound like the very threats we face, Obama further warns against ‘the idea that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force.’ … Does it even occur to him that the problem is not ‘bellicose words’ but following them up by backing down?”

Putin clearly holds the upper hand right now. He has been resolute, bold and committed — all the qualities that Obama has lacked from the beginning. In the name of political expediency, Obama created a power vacuum in Iraq and Syria, allowing the Islamic State to grow and prosper. Now, Russia, which has alternated between being America’s strategic competitor to outright opponent, is stepping in to fill the void.

This is a dangerous situation that will only give Russia (and Iran) a stronger foothold in a region where Obama has steadily ceded U.S. influence and leadership. Regaining the respect of our allies and enemies alike will only get tougher as time goes by. The fact that Putin felt confident enough to call out America at the UN is a prime example of what lies ahead of the U.S. does not regain the mantle of leadership in world affairs.

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