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Obama: Managing off-shore crises beyond his control

By Uche Onyebadi
WATCHING President Barack Obama as he addressed a number of press conferences last week, I recalled a book we read very long ago titled One Week, One Trouble by Anezi Okoro. It was about an urchin who got into trouble every week. But, the only similarity between Obama and the kid is their overwhelmed demeanor as both characters in their various ways and in different climes and era encountered a kettle of troubles.

As he sat in the Oval office in the White House, Obama’s fate was far beyond the complexities one-week-one-trouble. He had a myriad of problems that demanded his attention and solution as the leader of the so-called free world and most powerful nation in the world. In Iraq, militants of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were fighting their way towards Tikrit, the home town of former dictator, Saddham Hussein. The militants made the issue more complex by ordering Christians in Mosul to convert to Islam or pay a ‘protection fine’ or face the sword. From Afghanistan came the crisis of the integrity of the presidential poll results between the two rivals in the run-off election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.

As Obama dispatched his Secretary of State John Kerry to fire-brigade the Afghan electoral crisis, Israelis and Hamas militants engaged themselves in mortal combat in Gaza. The battle hit its zenith when Israeli forces commenced a land invasion aimed at destroying Hamas’ tunnels. As the bloodbath surged between Hamas and Israel, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was blasted off the sky over Ukraine by a yet-to-be-determined group. The only known issue at the moment is that a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile was used to down the aircraft, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.

The common denominators in these crises are: (a) the expectation that Obama, as the leader of the United States, is supposed to lead the rest of the world in finding solutions to the crises; and (b) the fact that the crises are taking place offshore, in areas where the U.S. is distanced from and is not in a position to physically intervene and halt the mayhem. President Obama has little to no control over the chief architects of the crises raging out of control in various parts of the world, yet he is expected to solve the problems; to throw America’s might and weight behind the boiler-plates of problems and find working solutions to all of them.

I imagine that in his quiet moments President Obama might be asking himself why all these global problems had to come at the same time. And what would be the best way to handle them all at once in the face of all odds against him, especially not being in control of the situations. Obama pulled out U.S. troops from Iraq when the Nuri al-Maliki government refused to accent to U.S. conditions for their presence, and now Obama is expected to do something to halt the march towards Baghdad by ISIS forces. In Afghanistan, the U.S. is finalizing measures to get its troops out of the country, even as the presidential elections threaten to degenerate into a bigger crisis, as the Taliban militia leaders are waiting patiently to cash in on the troubles ahead.

In the Middle East, the U.S. government cannot directly talk to Hamas nor is it in a position to dictate

Putin and Obama
Putin and Obama

to the Israeli government on how to go about confronting Hamas in Gaza. The story is not different in Ukraine as the rebels owe allegiance to Moscow and leaders of the European nations that suffered more casualties in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 are a bit hesitant to go tough on Vladimir Putin because of strong economic ties with the Kremlin.

Putin and Obama
Putin and Obama

Back home, Obama is not having it easy either. His chief critic on foreign affairs, Senator John McCain of Arizona, gave MSNBC his views on events in Ukraine: “These latest (sanctions on Russia) enacted by the Obama administration, I think, are helpful. But if you ask the Ukrainian government that’s struggling, they would say they need weapons with which to defend themselves.” In other words, get more involved in the conflict, Mr. President, is what McCain appears to suggest.

The fact in all these simultaneous crisis situations is that President Obama has found himself dealing with a series of offshore conflicts over which he really has no control. That is a major issue for him to contend with, and certainly something that shows that despite its super-power image and strength, the United States cannot police the whole world. In fairness, President Obama fully appreciates this fact and from time to time tries to involve the United Nations and other countries to solve some of these apparently intractable problems. Most of these problems realistically call for multi-lateral approaches for solutions.

Unfortunately, some pockets of interests within the U.S. believe that their country has the capacity to lead the world and solve all of its problems with its military and economic might. When their president attempts to engage other nations in solving a crisis, they see him as a wimp. To them, arming America’s friends and allies and visiting military force upon America’s real and proxy enemies are the only solutions to international crises.

But, the present hydra-headed problems from Iraq to Ukraine amply demonstrate that when it comes to solving the world’s problems, the United States cannot act alone. It is even more difficult managing a crisis far away from home, and where the U.S. has little or no control or influence over the combatants.


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