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Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman
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Is Obama To Blame for the World's Crises?


The world is a hot mess. Pro-Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet over Ukraine. Iraq is under siege from Islamic radicals, the Taliban is rebounding in Afghanistan and civil war grinds on in Syria.

Israel is fighting in Gaza. Negotiations on Iran's nuclear program have come up empty. China is bullying its neighbors.

When trouble flares up around the world, U.S. presidents get blamed. The latest polls show that only about 36 percent of Americans approve of Barack Obama's handling of foreign affairs — down from 51 percent in May, 2011, after the death of Osama bin Laden.

Republicans have not been reluctant to place responsibility on him. "Obama has presided over a recent string of disasters that make even (Jimmy) Carter look competent," wrote Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. "The world is on fire — and Obama's foreign policy legacy is in tatters." Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina charged that "his policies are failing across the globe."

The indictment implies that had the administration been tougher or smarter, Ukraine would be intact, Syria's dictator would be gone, Iraq would be stable, Hamas would surrender, China would be a gentle lamb and Iran would give up its nukes.

Conservatives say Obama thinks he's king. But they seem to confuse him with God.

It's easy to forget that planet Earth has always been a turbulent locale. During the Reagan administration, often fondly recalled as a golden age, there was endless strife hither and yon: civil wars in Central America; Americans taken hostage in Lebanon; a U.S. military barracks blown up in Beirut; and Libyan terrorists bombing a Pan Am plane.

The Soviets shot down a South Korean passenger jet. South Africa's minority white government tried to suppress a black revolt.

Reagan may get credit for causing the collapse of the Soviet Union, but tranquility didn't follow. It wasn't long before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Yugoslavia erupted into bloody ethnic conflict, civil war broke out in one African country after another, famine ravaged Somalia, Palestinians rose up against Israeli rule, and Pakistan and India fought a war after acquiring nuclear weapons.

And the 21st century? It did not turn the world into a serene oasis where America consistently got its way.

The 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan are still fresh in our minds. The Russian invasion of Georgia, al-Qaida's migration into Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Israel's war in Lebanon, the civil war in Sudan — those are easy to forget.

North Korea cheated on a nuclear deal under Bush. Iran took major strides in its own nuclear quest. Vladimir Putin gutted Russian democracy. China tried to intimidate its neighbors.

When was this era of harmony that Obama has somehow forfeited? It never happened. And it's not likely to emerge under his successor. Even at the height of our post-Cold War power and influence, nasty events happened all the time, and we couldn't stop them.

The Cold War era was a bit more controlled, because so many governments were dependent for their security on either the U.S. or the Soviet Union, who could often keep them in line. But there was still plenty of bloodshed in plenty of places — from Vietnam to the Indian subcontinent to Lebanon to El Salvador. Often, neither Washington nor Moscow got what it wanted.

Nor is it obvious Obama could have achieved much with more assertive tactics against the Russian government or the Syrian government: His options were few and unpromising. Nothing short of a NATO military response — which even the hawks didn't propose — would have stopped Putin from seizing Crimea.

Arming the Syrian rebels could have meant giving aid to the militants marching on our ally in Baghdad. Staying in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many Republicans advised, was a formula for wasting American lives to merely delay the inevitable.

Yet the belief persists that the difference between a bad outcome and a good outcome is a willingness by the U.S. government to exercise leadership or show toughness or otherwise get involved. In practice, our interventions often exact a terribly high price for a dismal result. If there are two ways to get a dismal result, maybe we should choose the one that doesn't cost us thousands of lives or billions of dollars.

We like to think we can easily shape the world to suit our preferences. But as the 19th-century historian Henry Adams pointed out, chaos is the law of nature, and order is the dream of man.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... It is hard to enjoy the pleasures of war without an occasional peace... It is hard to afford war at all if you cannot afford peace... I don't want to break the news to anyone, but it is capital and its need for markets and raw materials that puts us all in conflict... After every conflict there are more broken and displaced people to add to our own dispirited masses... If you look at your history you can see that capitalism never took off until the black plague swept Europe of a third to a half of their population... First of all, it freed a great deal of capital that people were living off of, and the shortage of labor forced people to use their heads, think rationally and invent labor saving devices which in many instances simply required rediscovery from the ancients...In very short order we discovered America, and in the resources of the West we found use for all labor, even slave labor; and all that remained in doubt was international markets... Yes; the improved diet found in America fueled advances, and a surge of population... Yes, the sugar produced by slave labor was as important to the industrial revolution as the coal being dug out of the soil of Europe...Still; Capitalism is always working at creating the situation brought by the great Plague, and war is simply one solution to the over population that invariably eats up all the profits of capitalism...
From the point of view of capital it makes no difference whether people die of the plague of war, or of the plagues of disease brought on by the stresses of war... Death is death under capitalism, the ultimate goal, the Thanatos, the death wish... Now the world is arming itself, and warming up to the idea of global war...These old societies played out of ideas have nothing better to offer the people than death; starvation, boredom, frustration, stress, fear, and disease included...Will we let them kill us to have their profit??? I am not in the desert eating honey and locust only to prophecy the destruction of Western Society... If we do not realize it is us against them, the poor against the rich, and if we do not know that capital feeds on death; then we had better find it out; because it is about to kill us...To keep the poor alive who without resources might otherwise quietly starve or die of exposure is a crime to the right... The idea that they who have money must educate those who have none offensive...And yet, they wait for war like a kid waits for Santa Clause, never thinking we pay with our children, our commonwealth and our rights for their fun...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Jul 27, 2014 12:53 PM
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