“You better stop stealing money from your mother’s purse, young man, or I will punish you late this year or perhaps sometime in 2018,” said no parent who was serious about punishment.
Yet that’s pretty much what President Obama did with his old-fashioned expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over alleged political hacking by Moscow interests going back 18 months.
A very strange retro-response from a president who mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting in 2012 that Russia was America’s worst strategic threat. Obama said: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
As has often happened when Obama shoots from the lip sans teleprompter (think his red line in Syria, ISIS is a JV squad), the aloof one is wrong.
Obama’s been golfing and snorkeling in Hawaii since mid-December. But he left orders for a number of last-minute steps, including more ineffective sanctions against Russia and a stunning historic break with Israel. Indeed, these measures smell more of vengeance than practical policy.
Petty political ploys are standard operating procedure back in the Chicago wards that spawned Obama’s career. They’re less expected at the presidential level. In fact, Russia’s president declined to retaliate.
Anyone needs an oversized ego to see themselves as president of all of Obama’s alleged 57 United States. But Obama’s ego is larger even than the million-acre national monument he recently imposed on Utah.
And when Obama’s ego rubs against those of other, let’s say, non-self-effacing egos like Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, friction is inevitable.
With Putin, Obama’s actions smack of a jilted suitor. Remember in 2009 when Obama was in full Russia suck-up mode announcing a botched reset in relations with Moscow and even unilaterally canceling a missile defense system within former Soviet satellites, without telling them?
Like most dictatorships getting what they want, Russia reacted predictably, not by cooperating in return but by pushing for more. (See Munich Pact with Hitler, 1938.) The Putin gang did not help restrain Iran, but sold it sophisticated arms in defiance of U.N sanctions.
Russia annexed Crimea, fomented guerrilla war in Ukraine, moved militarily into Syria and the Mideast, seeks to undermine NATO and harassed U.S. military at sea.
And Russians, according to U.S. intelligence sources, also hacked the emails of Democrat organizations and operatives to their extreme political embarrassment during a presidential race.
But wait! Nearly seven years into Obama’s reign and two months before the Ruskies hacked Democrats, the Chinese allegedly broke into the Office of Management and Budget. They got all the personnel files, Social Security numbers, security concerns and clearances for 21.5 million current and former federal employees.
How many Chinese did Obama expel? What other retaliation did he order? None, actually.
We might guess that Obama making an international stink over Chinese hacking would raise the question, of why after all of Obama’s warnings, security commissions and vows about the paramount importance of national security, this federal government’s cybersecurity remains a sieve.
For someone who attended Harvard, Obama often claims a convenient ignorance: Among the examples: The imploded ObamaCare website, the IRS harassment scandal and his unexplained absence during the murderous Benghazi night.
The president claimed ignorance of Hillary Clinton’s insecure email server, though he knew how to message her there. And recall he initially dismissed Edward Snowden as a mere hacker. It took Obama a year to call Syria on using chemical weapons, then he quickly backed down, blaming Congress.
Since Obama vowed to run a smooth presidential transition, what’s the real point of picking a tardy diplomatic scuffle with Putin? What’s the real point of setting Israel (and the annoying Netanyahu) adrift at the United Nations now?
Why issue all these offshore drilling bans and new federal regulations? Why commute more federal prison sentences than a dozen past presidents combined? Why keep releasing Guantanamo terrorists when so many return to their homicidal careers?
Might it be to plant political IEDs for his annoying successor, as Democrats seek to restore their party? For the first time in nearly a century a former president decided to reside in Washington. Obama has rented a mansion and office space where he’ll be easily accessible to media friends for, say, kibitzing his successor – unlike Obama’s predecessor, who went silent for more than a year.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.