The world is lately an unstable mess, as crazily off balance as at anytime in the past three and a half decades, says a recent front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, and it's clearly, frighteningly true.
Look at the Middle East and you see bloody conflict in Iraq and Syria and escalating missile exchanges between Israel and Hamas. Look at Eastern Europe and you see Ukraine trying to defend itself from pro-Russian rebels. Look at Asia and you see China telling its neighbors that their territory is its territory and they'd better back up or else.
We could add any number of other hugely upsetting situations. The question is what's going on, and one obvious answer is that all kinds of forces are at work.
In a column in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman shows how droughts, Internet communications and the end of the Cold War have been among the natural, technological, historical and other major influences playing large, specific roles in the events we are witnessing. It's complicated and cannot be reduced to one personality, such as that of President Barack Obama, he tells us even as he admits U.S. flubs, and, up to a point, he has a point.
But it's hardly new that the world is subject to sweeping changes that then perplex leaders who nevertheless sometimes respond valiantly, wisely and effectively. They may not make the world purr, but shove back at the worst, keeping it more in hand than it would have been. Despite some genuinely good moves here and there, that's not what we are mostly seeing from Obama.
Notwithstanding occasional rhetoric to the contrary, it's almost as if he regrets we are a major power, sees fulfilling at least some of his implied responsibilities as misdeeds and, at any rate, would rather give politically divisive speeches at fundraisers. That's occupied his precious time to the extent of 74 of them this past year, reports The Washington Post, and that's not a trivial observation. It's is scarily symbolic of what sometimes seems a retreat from duty.
Specific policy miscalculations signaling the same conclusion have been well-rehearsed by his critics, but at least a few deserve mention.
Perhaps wrongheadedly, he told Syria there would be"enormous" military consequences if it crossed a red line. Syria crossed it, there were no such consequences and the message was not to worry about Obama's warnings.
He just maybe could have shortened the Syrian war and helped the relatively moderate forces in that country come to power through more military aid early on, but didn't.
If he had left maybe 20,000 occupying forces in Iraq -- as in fact many experts say he could have -- it is far less likely that country would now be in upheaval.
Another bad message: reducing the military at this time as much as says to every rival out there to fret less about causing trouble.
I sometimes wonder about Obama's kibitzing aides. It was bad enough to send UN Ambassador Susan Rice out with what appears a misbegotten tale for national TV audiences after the Benghazi murders. But considering the backlash, it was on the order of insanity to send Rice, currently the national security advisor, out on a similar mission to explain the release of five big-time terrorists in a prisoner swap that quickly turned controversial.
I also sometimes wonder about his speech writers. In his address about foreign policy strategy at the West Point graduation in May, Obama made a major point about how it is not always right to use military force in every difficult situation. Of course not. Who is saying so?
Mostly I wonder about Obama himself. He is super bright and has his moments, but more and more seems utterly miscast as president, especially considering the multiple forces banging away at world stability with too much unmediated success.
(Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.)