By Walter Shapiro
Most second-term presidents become fixated on global affairs because the world beyond our shores, with all its strife and misery, often seems more malleable than life in Washington, with its fractious Congress and waning electoral mandate. The trick, though, for a foreign policy president, is to be good at it—and these days those skills appear to be eluding Barack Obama.
This week’s biggest rebuke to Obama foreign policy was not Wednesday’s House hearing on Benghazi with its wrenching narrative of the September night that Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Libya. Nor was it Friday morning’s revelation of new Benghazi-related documents. More embarrassing was a front-page article in last Sunday’s New York Times detailing how Obama erred last August when he impetuously declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons in its civil war would be a “red line.”
It’s a simple rule: Presidents should never make threats until they have worked out how they would enforce them.
Blog Posts by Walter Shapiro
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Fri, May 10, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from From Benghazi to Syria: Obama’s Bush-league mistakes in foreign policy
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Thu, Apr 18, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from From Boston to Newtown to Aurora and beyond: Obama’s sad role as national grief counselor
Just moments after he raised his right hand to take the oath of office at a time of economic despair in 2009, Barack Obama spoke of the resilience of the American people. In that first inaugural address, Obama paraphrased the lyrics from a 1930s Fred Astaire musical as he declared, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
Thursday afternoon, at a memorial service in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Obama invoked the story of 78-year-old marathoner Bill Iffrig who was knocked off his feet by the bomb blast just 15 feet from the finish line. Talking of the resilience of Boston and America in the face of harrowing violence, Obama said, “We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we’ll pick ourselves up. We’ll keep going. We will finish the race.”
Obama was very careful with his language, describing “this heinous act” and the perpetrators as “small, stunted individuals.” The president never
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Mon, Apr 8, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from For Obama, gun control is more than just a feel-good gesture
For Barack Obama, like any second-term president, the most valuable political commodity is time. Every day brings Obama closer to that chilling moment of semi-irrelevance when Americans are more fixated on the 2016 elections than on the man finishing out his eight-year lease on the Oval Office.
That’s why it’s telling that Obama is flying to Connecticut on Monday afternoon for his second out-of-town gun control event in a week. This represents a level of presidential commitment that Obama has rarely displayed about other issues on the liberal wish list, like global warming. Nearly four months after the Sandy Hook shootings, it suggests that the death of 20 small children continues to sear Obama’s soul.
The presidential visit to Hartford serves as a prelude to a week when the Senate will begin debating gun legislation under the threat of a conservative GOP filibuster. But for the first time in weeks, there are glimmers of hope that the National Rifle Association (NRA)
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Mon, Mar 18, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from Republican disarray on full display at CPAC
In politics, nothing is as fascinating as a party in disarray, uncertain about its future and bitterly divided about whether and how to change. That’s why for the next few years, Republican agonies offer an infinitely more compelling narrative than the arrogance of the puffed-up Obama Democrats.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which ended its annual meeting Saturday, represented a high-profile opportunity for top Republicans to ask painful what-next questions -- or avoid them.
In an era when every politician is a robotic follower of message discipline, CPAC was riotously off-message. The chief reason for the thematic disarray was that most prominent Republicans simply do not agree on the long-term message to offer that will help them win presidential elections.
The CPAC press contingent, which was big enough to cover the O.J. Simpson trial, had collectively decided that CPAC was the kick-off for the 2016 Republican nominating contest. Bulletin: Only
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Thu, Mar 7, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from Rand's stand: How the filibustering blusterer made the Senate (briefly) a better place
The topsy-turvy scene would have been impossible to imagine when George W. Bush was in the White House.
Wednesday night was oozing into Thursday morning on the Senate floor as Rand Paul’s lone-wolf filibuster against the president’s drone program had morphed into a larger Republican crusade. In a symbolic blessing by the GOP establishment, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (up for reelection in 2014) had just appeared to affirm his solidarity with libertarian Paul, a recent foe in Kentucky Republican politics.
Suddenly, liberal Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, one of Barack Obama’s closest friends in Congress, was asking Paul for permission to interrupt his 12-hour filibuster with a question. (In the Senate, by the way, a question is a speech with a brief interrogatory at the end).
Durbin began his “question” by spending several minutes emotionally conjuring up the scene in Washington 11 years ago on Sept. 11. The Illinois Democrat pulled out all the dramatic stops–the
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Fri, Mar 1, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from The sequester: How a poison pill became a delicious blue-plate special
The most ominous sign in Washington this week? The speechwriters have simply given up.
There is nary a new argument, thought or metaphor to emerge from the White House or Capitol Hill as the dreaded sequester—D.C.’s version of a slasher movie—is slated to take effect late Friday night. With the indiscriminate slice-and-dice power of a Veg-O-Matic, Congress will chop $85 billion from the current federal budget, affecting everything from the Pentagon to the Centers for Disease Control.
In a rare show of political unity, no major figure in either party believes that this complete abdication of priorities (federal meat inspectors are treated the same as tourism planners at the Commerce Department) is a sane way to do budgeting. And in a typical show of Washington paralysis, no one seems willing to do anything about it.
Instead of round-the-clock negotiations, we get round-the-clock talking points. In his opening statement at his Wednesday briefing, White House press
Obama’s State of the Union address: Joblessness, gun violence and budgetary gridlock will still be here when it’s overBy Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Mon, Feb 11, 2013By Walter Shapiro
For Barack Obama, Tuesday’s State of the Union address is the last in a five-month sequence of formal political speeches, delivered in star-spangled settings and broadcast on prime-time television, dating back to the Democratic convention. After the partisan applause in the House chamber dies down Tuesday night, the next time Obama will speak to the nation during the evening will be, in all likelihood, a time of crisis or national grieving.Read More »from Obama’s State of the Union address: Joblessness, gun violence and budgetary gridlock will still be here when it’s over
Obama’s 2012 convention speech was about polls and swing states. His inaugural address was a moment for eloquent symbolism, which he achieved with his unequivocal endorsement of gay rights. A second-term State of the Union address is different: What matters are not the words but the policy.
Obama should answer three questions: Now that the election is over, what do I truly believe? What is the order of my priorities? And what will I not accept from Congress under any circumstance?
Like every White House since the news was delivered
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Mon, Jan 28, 2013
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from Don't hem him in: 'Liberal' can't define the Obama presidency
Is Barack Obama a liberal?
That question might have aroused spirited debate, especially among Democrats, during the president’s vague-is-in-vogue re-election campaign. But since the polls closed on Nov. 6, President Obama has undeniably positioned himself to the left of Candidate Obama.
Amid the national grieving over the Sandy Hook shootings, Obama suddenly found the gumption to stare down the NRA and put gun control back on the national agenda. His inaugural address will be remembered for the stirring endorsement of gay rights and the sudden rediscovery of climate change. Then before the inaugural glow wore off, the Pentagon announced that it would drop its ban on women in combat. And immigration reform—another explosive topic—is likely to receive a star turn in the upcoming State of the Union address.
But before we dust off right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s absurd claim that Obama is really a Kenyan socialist, let’s look more closely at the president’s sudden
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Thu, Dec 13, 2012
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from Hillary 2016! Why Clinton needs—but won’t get—a break from public life
The envelope, please. The 2012 award for the most candid comment by a prominent public official goes to Hillary Clinton. Her uncharacteristic burst of honesty adds a layer of complexity to the premature speculation about her political future.
In an interview with the New York Times columnist Gail Collins, Clinton revealed her fantasy for 2013 after she takes her final globe-girdling flight as secretary of state: “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired.”
The dream seems so modest: to see whether her 65-year-old body can recover from years of too much stress and too little sleep. But Hillary Clinton, Private Citizen, will soon have to confront the world clamoring at her door with its own set of expectations, requests and demands for clarity about running for president in 2016.
Friends who want her to speak, receive an award or grace a
- Walter Shapiro | Yahoo! News – Mon, Dec 10, 2012
By Walter ShapiroRead More »from Next Secretary of State? Kerry’s Vietnam experience gives him an edge
A quarter century ago, in 1988, World War II veterans George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole battled for the Republican presidential nomination. Now Bush and Dole are in their late 80s and mostly confined to wheelchairs, as was evident when Dole appeared on the Senate floor last week.
The men who won World War II have long since departed the corridors of power in Washington. But without trumpets or fanfare, another generation is leaving as well: the men and women whose worldview was shaped by Vietnam.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a prime example – a woman who in the early1960s was a Goldwater girl from the Chicago suburbs but who ended the decade a passionately antiwar commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
Barack Obama was in 8th grade in Hawaii in 1975 when South Vietnam fell to the Communists, so he may not instinctively place a premium on Vietnam experience when choosing his second-term national security team. But I believe such experience is an important
- Torrey AndersonSchoepe - Fri, May 17, 2013
- Vera H-C Chan - Thu, Mar 21, 2013