Finally, President Obama shows some leadership

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.


At last week’s summit meeting of leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Wales, Great Britain, President Barack Obama went a long way toward shaking off his growing image of being feckless, indecisive and disengaged in response to the major foreign policy crises posed by the extreme terrorist ISIS group in Iraq and Syria and the continued aggression against Ukraine fomented by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama had come in for major criticism not only from his usual hawkish critics such as  Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain, but even from members of his own party, such as Sen. Diane Feinstein of California.  

In an interview on ※Meet the Press§ after a disastrous Obama news conference in which he said that “we don’t have a strategy yet” on how to respond to ISIS, even after the brutal beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Feinstein said that Obama is “a very cautious president, and perhaps in this instance he is being too cautious.”

Obama came in for more criticism when he made a strong statement after talking to Foley’s parents and then, right after, was seen playing golf. McCain said the president seemed “strangely disengaged,” and even liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd lampooned him in a piece headlined “Barry is Bored.”

Once he joined his fellow heads of state for what was the most important NATO summit since the end of the Cold War, Obama seemed to regain his footing and took some decisive action with the support of key allies to deal with the twin threats of ISIS and Russian aggression in Ukraine.  

At his news conference in Wales after the summit, Obama seemed much more in command of both crises. Regarding ISIS, Obama said the threat from the terrorist group that  grabbed control of one-third of Iraq and a large chunk of war-torn Syria was indeed serious, and that a coalition among the United States and eight of its key allies, along with support and coordination within the Middle East, was being formed.

Obama said the goal was to “degrade ISIS§ by reducing the geographic areas over which it gained control, and ultimately defeat and “destroy” it. He has already approved the launching of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, which took back control of the major dam in Mosul with the help of Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and units of the Iraqi army. 

Obama again ruled out American “boots on the ground” but cautioned that the ultimate goal of destroying ISIS could take at least three years of highly concentrated and coordinated effort.

Regarding the threat of Putin’s aggression, Obama made an important appearance in Estonia, one of the Baltic states that is a formal member of NATO. He reiterated U.S. and NATO support for the treaty’s Article 5, which states an attack on one member state is an attack on all member states. 

Obama and NATO allies also agreed to form a Rapid Deployment Force to respond to additional threats posed by Russian aggression.

Currently, a cease-fire is mostly holding between Russia and Ukraine after a telephone conference between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Putin increased the rhetorical pressure on Poroshenko by boasting the he “could take Kiev in less than a week,” and then in typical cat-and-mouse fashion said his comment was taken out of context. 

In recent weeks, Putin has blatantly violated Ukraine’s sovereignty by cynically sending troops and weapons into Ukraine from Russia disguised as humanitarian aid.

To their credit, Obama and his key NATO allies ramped up economic sanctions against Russia and reiterated that the NATO nations do not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

All in all, Obama, for now, seems to have thrown off his wet blanket of leading from behind to take on the mantle of the leadership of the free world and commander-in-chief of the United States of America. Let us hope that he will match his stronger words with decisive action.