Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sunday September 28th, 2014
As I watched President Barack Obama, addressing the United Nations General Assembly this past week – a remarkable speech on many levels – I was struck by the visible evidence of how much he has aged. It’s not just the noticeable amount of gray hair, but the many new lines that are now etched on his face. Not quite six years into his presidency, Barack Obama no longer looks like that virtual youngster who took office to face the greatest global financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He now looks like the middle aged man he is.
This physical change was wrought by a seemingly never ending series of crises and an unprecedented and unrelenting campaign by the Republican Party to do everything in its power to bring him down. Such pressures inevitably also changed the man within. The president, who friend or foe alike have praised or pummeled for his risk aversion, is now evidently taking the biggest risk of all - getting directly involved in another Middle East War.
That dramatic change is summed up in the New York Times lead paragraph on Wednesday’s U.N. speech, reported by Mark Landler.
“UNITED NATIONS — President Obama laid out a forceful new blueprint on Wednesday for deeper American engagement in the Middle East, telling the United Nations General Assembly that the Islamic State understood only ‘the language of force’ and that the United States would ‘work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.’ In a much-anticipated address two days after he expanded the American-led military campaign against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, into Syria, Mr. Obama said, ‘Today, I ask the world to join in this effort,’ declaring, ‘We will not succumb to threats, and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.’”
Of course, this new war is not happening in a vacuum. The President of the United States is fully expected to take a leadership role in the on-going crisis in Ukraine, where Russia’s aggressive policies remain highly troubling. In West Africa the Ebola epidemic seems ready to explode even as the U.S. prepares to send 3000 troops to build 17 moveable hospitals in Liberia. And on the issue of climate change, the U.N. is struggling to establish a new protocol to limit carbon emissions, which won’t happen without serious American participation. At another time, any one of these critical issues would be enough to dominate the news headlines – and demand major presidential attention.
So what do key players among the “loyal” Republican opposition concern themselves with? According to Dan Lamothe, a Washington Post national security reporter, the president is now under fire from his critics for “Latte-gate.” In his report published Thursday, Lamothe wrote, “Obama found himself in a new controversy after the White House released a brief video on its Instagram account of the president departing the Marine One helicopter in New York. Obama salutes the Marines as he steps off the aircraft - but has a coffee cup in his right hand as he salutes with it. It was quickly dubbed the “latte salute.”
“The move came shortly after Obama announced on Tuesday that the United States and five Arab partners had launched a series of airstrikes in Syria. The reaction was swift and vitriolic from some quarters, many of which criticize the president frequently.
“‘I mean, please, how disrespectful was that?’ said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News.
“‘Obama’s Disrespectful ‘Latte salute’ Shocks and Offends’ said a headline on the conservative Web site Breitbart.
“Reaction from veterans and service members was mixed. Brian Jones, a recent Marine Corps veteran, wrote on the military-themed Web site Task and Purpose that the ‘presidential salute isn’t a real thing.’ From his post: ‘So now thousands of people get their gimmies rustled because the busiest man in the world forgot to switch his pumpkin-spice latte from his right hand in following an imaginary protocol on his way to address the United Nations about a war he just entered. I can’t imagine what possibly could have been on his mind.’”
This is so petty it would hardly be worth a mention, except that Karl Rove has at his disposal, many tens of millions of dollars of political action committee money with which to influence key elections. And demeaning this president is his stock-in-trade.
Actually, on this occasion many of those opposed to Obama’s new direction, especially in the mainstream media, are liberals. And they’ve all become military experts in telling us that air strikes can’t win wars without (insert tiresome cliché- boots on the ground.) Bearing in mind the objective is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, you can do a lot of degrading with air power which is what has been happening the past few days in Syria. The strategic targets include command and control, weapons depots, training centers, leadership, not to mention ISIS’ major source of revenue these days – former Syrian oil facilities from which it has been pocketing an estimated $2 million per day. That the U.S. is doing this against Sunni Muslim extremists with the publicly acknowledged involvement of five key Sunni Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, also sends a critical political message - that this is not America at war with Islam.
Finally, in the coverage of President Obama’s U.N. speech and the shift in policy it represents there was a lot of grumbling, again among liberals, that he sounds “Just like George W. Bush.” Let me remind my liberal friends, Obama is not going to war under false pretenses. He is not going to be trapped into sending in tens of thousands of American combat troops for another decade of war. And most especially, this is not a war of choice as was Iraq. ISIS is a serious threat to which the United States simply cannot be indifferent.
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