By New York Post Editorial Board
Photo: Zumapress.com/Getty Images
Just three years ago, President Obama famously ridiculed GOP opponent Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia remained America’s main geopolitical foe by taunting: “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
Four years before that, Obama stood at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to declare that once he became president, all people would join him around a global campfire, hold hands and put an end to the world’s evils and miseries.
Well, seven years into Obama’s presidency, the promised worldwide Kumbaya is instead global chaos — caused in large measure by his willful retreat from America’s position of leadership.
Washington’s traditional allies increasingly feel abandoned, its enemies emboldened. The United States isn’t even leading from behind — it’s cowering in weakness.
And no one is taking better advantage of this than Vladimir Putin, now storming headlong into the yawning chasm of American retreat and reasserting Russia’s global influence and power — just as Mitt Romney said.
Putin remains unchallenged in his invasion of Ukraine, leaving him free to intervene — again unchallenged — in the Middle East.
In Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world hasn’t ended the threat of terrorism. On the contrary, it has seen the rise of “JV team” ISIS and new power for the Taliban. Israelis and Palestinians remain as far apart as ever — because only Israel has been targeted to make concessions.
This president accuses his political foes of wanting to wage war as their first option and warns of the limits of unilateral military power.
But in his eagerness to leave office as the president who ended America’s wars, he refuses to consider any use (or even a credible threat) of US force — even when hundreds of thousands are being massacred in Syria, many by the chemical weapons he claimed to eliminate.
His premature abandonment, against all military advice, of Iraq and Afghanistan (where the pullout is still under way) has left both countries worse off. Iraq, in particular, is bleeding far more than it did even in the worst years of “George Bush’s war.”
Equally eager to open America’s arms to longtime adversaries, this president has begun new relationships with Iran (all but giving Tehran a direct path to a nuclear arsenal) and Cuba without any concessions in return — even on such basic issues as human rights.
It’s no accident Obama has twice spoken in Berlin — at the very spot where Ronald Reagan famously demanded Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.” Two years later, the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that, the Soviet bloc collapsed, ending the Cold War.
Obama chose Berlin as the place to call on all nations to join him in “tearing down the walls” to “remake the world.” But his soaring rhetoric was followed by indecision, hesitation and outright appeasement.
America’s allies are calling, Mr. President. They want Ronald Reagan’s assertive foreign policy of the 1980s back.
They want an America that leads — not retreats.
What did he know and when did he know it? The immortal question about Richard Nixon and Watergate should be posed to Barack Obama about Syria. What and when did he know about Vladimir Putin’s axis-of-evil coalition?
The significance is not limited to Syria. The question goes to the heart of the Iran nuclear deal, especially the timing of the congressional votes.
Imagine Obama trying to sell the Iran deal now. With Russia, Iran and Iraq working together to muscle the United States aside and defend Bashar al-Assad, the president couldn’t possibly argue that the nuke deal would help stabilize the Middle East. Nor could he argue that Russia could be trusted to help enforce restrictions on Iran.
The strong likelihood that Obama would have lost the Iran vote if Congress knew then what the world knows now suggests the possibility the president concealed the Russian plan until the Iran deal was done. That view fits with his single-minded determination to get a deal at any price, including making key concessions and downplaying Iranian threats to Israel and the United States.
After all that, what’s another lie?
That view is also supported by the chronology, which reveals strong evidence the president hid the truth.
For much of September, reports of Russia moving soldiers and military equipment into Syria invariably said the Pentagon was “puzzled” or the White House was “unclear” about Putin’s intent. Obama declared on Sept. 11 that whatever the dictator’s plan, it was “doomed to fail.”
The claims of fuzziness about Syria allowed Obama to keep the focus on his push to sell the Iran pact to Congress. He touted Russia’s support, vowed to impose “snapback” sanctions if Iran cheated and said he would work to stop the mullahs’ regional aggressions.
His arguments and arm-twisting kept 42 Senate Democrats in line, enough to save the deal. Yet soon after opponents lost their final vote, on Sept. 17, Russia revealed that it would lead a coalition of Iran and Iraq to intervene militarily to save the Assad regime.
The shock-and-awe attacks launched last week are rattling the world as Russian airstrikes pound Syrian rebels, including some we support, with Iraq and Iran providing boots on the ground. But it’s not possible that nobody in Washington saw this coming.
After all, the Russian plan took shape well before late September. The Iran deal was officially finalized on July 14, and Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani met with Putin in Russia on July 24. Fox News, which first reported the meeting, even had the flight numbers of Soleimani’s Iran Air flights between Moscow and Tehran.
Soleimani, banned from international travel because of links to terrorism, earlier had been spotted in Iraq, helping to defend Assad against Islamic State. Yet five days after Soleimani was in Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate the travel restrictions against Soleimani would never be lifted. Apparently, they would never be enforced, either.
Although Russia and Iran had separately supported Assad, Kerry never mentioned that they could be working together militarily. Yet the Institute for the Study of War, a respected think tank, reported that “available satellite imagery and open sources” showed that “the new buildup of Russian military forces in Syria began in July 2015 and accelerated considerably in late August and September.” That means the buildup began near the Soleimani visit to Putin.
The institute offered key details, including that in late August, a Russian ship unloaded armored personnel carriers. It cited another report from Syrian rebels that Russian-speaking soldiers were engaged in combat against Assad’s opponents.
Yet in early September, less than two weeks before the final Iran vote, Kerry still wondered whether the buildup reports were “accurate.” That ridiculous feint would soon morph to an acknowledgment of a buildup, but with convenient claims that nobody understood Putin’s intent.
Now, of course, everybody understands Putin’s intent and is alarmed because the war is widening and Russia has replaced the United States as the region’s top power broker, a blow to our national security and allies.
But there still is little understanding of the connection between this tectonic shift and the Iranian nuclear deal. In fact, the deal was the final piece that put the Syria plan into action.
By eliminating most sanctions and freeing Iranian assets, the nuke deal provides money and protection for the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism to attack our allies. And Iran’s liberation gave Putin the Muslim ground troops he needs.
So the question needs to be asked of Barack Hussein Nixon: What did you know, and when did you know it?