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Ukraine and Obama: it ain’t pretty

Frontline came out with a new episode on Ukraine called The Presidents and Putin. This is the latest in a series that recounts the origins of the war in Ukraine but in this case presents each presidents’ encounters and responses to Valdimir Putin. The short summary is that Bill Clinton and Joe Biden read Putin accurately as a anti-Democratic former KGB agent with ill intent in his heart, assuming he had one. Every other president between those two bookends got it disastrously wrong.

In this Frontline episode, what was previously hinted about Obama finally comes out unsparingly. In fact, the diplomats, military specialists and other experts that worked for or covered Obama finally said what they only danced around in prior episodes: Obama’s response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was baffling, infuriating and went against everyone’s advice at the time including Joe Biden’s.

It’s both refreshing and strange to see the facade of the myth of Obama’s greatness finally crack. They didn’t just criticize him on Ukraine but his response to Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria came under scrutiny as well.

Part of the reason for why Putin “rolled” Obama had to do with the years of inaction to every infraction by the Bush Administration. Putin has a knack for sizing his opponents up and using their own identities against them. In Bush’s case, it was his evangelical Christianity. So Putin told Bush a chicken soup story about how his saintly mother survived WWII, starvation and the loss of two children during the war while wearing a little wooden cross. And that little cross was one of a small handful of objects that survived a devastating fire at his family’s dacha. And now he carries that cross with him everywhere to remember his mother and as a symbol of his faith.

Bush ate it up and looked into Putin’s soul. Then Putin started to rebuild his empire.

Julia Ioffe who covered Russia during the Putin years says that Putin evaluated Obama as a young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced black man. Obama fans will zero in on the “black” part of this equation and immediately jump to “racism”. Ioffe acknowledges that Putin is a racist. But what I think she eventually gets to is that Putin thought Obama was a lightweight and easy to manipulate.

The risk America took when we elected Obama is that he would be a president without the confidence to make decisions because he didn’t know what he was doing. Was he smart? I’m assuming that he was. Was he charismatic? Not to me but I’m sure he sized up his competition and audience and knew what buttons to push in his base and his backers.

But he was very new to government and he came with a focus group tested set of ideals and a bankroll of money from his backers whose motives seemed to be focused on saving their asses from the mess on Wall Street that they created. If you don’t believe that, consider who really did well during the Obama years.

I think Obama was smart enough to know he was inexperienced and over his head. That tends to trigger insecurity and indecision. That was probably more important to him than the fact that Putin is a racist. If Putin’s racism did get into Obama’s head, then what was the point, all you civil rights era boomers? Did it feel so good to elect the equivalent of the Huxtables to the White House that you were willing to overlook Obama’s actual record or the lives of not upper middle class black families?

Putin sized him up pretty well. So when he invaded Crimea and all of Obama’s advisor’s and vice president were running around with their hair on fire, Obama did nothing. As one interviewee says, Ukraine “wasn’t on his agenda”.

Add that to protecting women’s access to abortion, paycheck fairness, protection for homeowners after the crash, protection of millions of Americans who were thrown out of work for extended periods of time and have never recovered their financial stability (moi) because his stimulus package was half of what it should have been.

Why am I so incensed about Obama all these years later? It’s not because he was black. It’s that his blackness was used as a tool by some pretty savvy and cynical backers and campaign people to run a stealth candidate for president. One that was young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced and consequently felt uneasy making decisions that had the power to affect the entire world. He was no threat to Putin or any other ultra wealthy powerbroker.

As Garry Kasparov says, if you don’t get rid of a dictator early, the price of doing so goes up as time goes by. Obama was not the only president who miscalculated or made stupid decisions. Bush and Trump were much worse. But Obama had a chance in 2014 to stop Putin in his tracks with regard to Ukraine and instead of punching the dictator, he did…


And here we are.


22 Responses

  1. Why am I so incensed about Obama all these years later? It’s not because he was black. It’s that his blackness was used as a tool by some pretty savvy and cynical backers and campaign people to run a stealth candidate for president.


    Obama did nothing about many things, including things he purported to support, like campaign finance reform.

  2. Yeah, I saw it last night too. It amazes me how thoroughly we were done in by three successive inept Presidents. It’ll be interesting to see RT-lite’s (Naked Capitalism) analysis of this in a couple of days. I assume they’ll just reprint something John Helmer wrote.

  3. We were right about him the whole time, we had to deal with a bunch of MoveOn hipsters who preferred living in denial. He was not the person that was going to hold Putin accountable or pass the Freedom of Choice Act (remember his promise to sign it?)

    He completely disemboweled any chance for true Wall St reforms too. I think his level of inaction and pandering to Wall St rises to the level of criminality. To promise sweeping reforms, Glass Steagall, 100 billion to prevent another housing crises, seizing banks etc etc only to turn around and hire people from Bush’s old Wall Street team? It was his plan to bail out Wall St the entire time. How TF did he get away with any of it?

    • It’s actually pretty clever. The people who backed him made him Teflon because any questions or criticism was framed as a character issue for the critic. You couldn’t be, and still can’t be, a critic of Obama without being a racist. Go watch Eugene Robinson’s frontline interview to see what I mean.
      Putin got into Obama’s head because he was a KGB agent who could detect Obama’s own discomfort with his black identity. He treated obama like a black man in Russia where there really WERE racists. Robinson puts the blame for Obama’s decisions on Putin because he was disrespectful.
      And Putin WAS disrespectful. But obama was the most powerful man on earth. He could have put Putin in his place. Instead, he dithered. And he dithered because he was young, inexperienced and idealistic just as Putin thought. He wasn’t thinking about the global condition. He was thinking about what a bunch oh middle aged lefty white guys would say if he got involved in a war on Ukraine’s behalf. So he did nothing. Actually, he did worse than nothing. All of his advisors were telling him that at the very least he had to help arm the Ukrainians. All of them told him this. They were very firm. And obama was the only one who said no.
      But if you bring this up, your character will immediately be questioned.
      After this expensive and devastating debacle, we should never ever let anyone push this “you can’t criticize anyone because of racism” shit on us ever again. The entire liberal and left side of the political spectrum completely caved because of this tactic and the ultra power brokers did whatever the fuck they wanted.

  4. Obama also could have elected Hillary if he out come out in public about Russian interference. But he wanted McConnell to go along with him. And of course McConnell refused.

    I thought I just posted something more. Maybe it will come through. Sorry if I am repeating myself.

    • I think it would have been really difficult for him to do that after he minimized Romney’s concerns about Russia in the 2012 debates and after he was caught on tape promising Putin that he’s have more flexibility after that election.

      • But this was 2016 at the end of his term. Surely he could have shown a little strength of character. What would have been the downside for him? What was he afraid of?

  5. In a better world, Gore was elected in 2000, followed by Hillary in 2008 and then maybe (after 8 years of seasoning in the Senate) Obama. The warnings about Bin Laden would have been heeded and his training camp in Afghanistan destroyed before the plans for 9/11 could be implemented. FEMA would have done a better job with Katrina. We wouldn’t have gone to war for 20 years. We’d have had enough of a surplus to shore up social security and have a real national healthcare plan. Russia would not have invaded Georgia or seized Crimea. Putin would be retired, and Russia would be known for its contributions to science, art, and culture rather than for blowing up maternity hospitals.

    However, we don’t live in a better world – we’re stuck in this sh*t timeline.

  6. How completely true. And I think it is well worth stating. Thank you.

  7. I really thought Obama was relieved when Trump won in 2016, as then the juxtaposition of him and Trump would show how superior Obama was and cement his position as a “great” president in comparison. Even some of us pined for the relative normality of the Obama presidency. If Hillary won, however, Obama, at best, would have receded into obscurity and may have been considered an afterthought when compared to an authentic leader.

  8. Obama will always be remembered as a slightly better president than W, and much better than Trump, but compared to the rest of the presidents he is definitely in the bottom quarter, i.e. not the worst, but no were near the best.

    • Oh yes, I was looking at it from his perspective. In my view, Obama was mediocre and still rings insincere to me when he appears in the public sphere.

  9. It’s still amazing to me that Obama squandered his mandate the way he did: overwhelming electoral victory, overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, and he dithered around and let those advantages evaporate.

    • IMO, that’s because he was more of a Rockefeller Republican than a Democrat. His drive to be historic was only historic in one way, the harm he caused the country. With no Obama there would have been no Trump.

      • I pretty much agree with all of this except the “Rockefeller” part. Obama ran to the Right of Richard Nixon. He made Nelson Rockefeller look like a socialist.

  10. I don’t think about Obama at all. He returns the favor by not thinking about me. It works for us.

  11. Recently on MSNBC with O’Donnell I heard Timothy Snyder, because of the arrest of McConnigle, reevaluate what went down with the FBI’s NY office interference in 2016. I remember wondering at the time who Comey was really working for.

    But I have still yet to hear about Putin and the Russian’s role in perhaps encouraging Tad Devine to encourage Bernie to run as a three minute democrat against Hillary. Surely this was a two pronged operation. Remember Tad Devine also worked with Manafort and the Russian Ukrainian stooge Yanakovitch. For may years actually, in charge of his presidential campaigns.

    Still furious at what happened to Hillary and the country, for that matter, as you all well know.

  12. Yeah, as someone who still has a huge weakness for Obama, this is hard to admit, but his foreign policy was fairly lightweight and inexperienced. Maybe he would have been better after a few more years in the Senate.

    • I’m not going to question your weakness for Obama. But I can’t think of any particular group that benefitted more from his two terms than Wall Street. His agenda was laser focused on saving its bacon.
      Reproductive rights? Not his legislative priority (according to his White House)
      Saving people’s livelihoods during the Great Recession? Not if it meant that Wall Street had to take a haircut.
      Increasing the stimulus package? Oo, that makes the wealthy nervous and the Republicans won’t like it.
      Universal healthcare with cost controls? Nope, not going that far. Too scary.
      I wish I could have felt good about him being the first black president. But it’s got to be more than bait.

  13. Usual Friday night stuff:

    Friday nights 7 PM – 8 PM North American Central Time:

    The Magical Mystery Tour. Host Tom Wood takes a look at the Beatles from a different angle each week.

    Friday nights 8 PM – 12 AM North American Central Time:

    Beaker Street, the legendary rock radio program, has returned. Iconic host Clyde Clifford brings classics and rare gems.

    Both shows can be found at https://www.arkansasrocks.com/

    If you can’t catch Beaker Street live, MP3 files are available soon afterward at https://beakerstreetsetlists.com/

    However, there have been problems with getting the later shows from the Set List site. I don’t know whether or not that has been fixed.

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