As you know, it has always been a policy of mine to treat President Barack Obama as I would treat any other president, regardless of party affiliation. In that, I mean that just as this president deserves to be constructively criticized when he does poorly or makes the wrong decision, Barack Obama deserves praise when he does something right and a defense when he is unfairly being criticized for wrongdoing.
So hang on to your safety belts, because I feel it necessary to stick up for the guy.
Well, sort of.
Thanks in part to attention paid to them by Matt Drudge and his Drudge Report site, two stories are circulating the Internet now and will likely be the topic of conversation among and ire from many on the right today. The first story is an Associated Press piece featured in yesterday’s Warsaw Business Journal. The second is a news piece run in yesterday’s Washington Times here at home in the States. Both point out that President Obama played 18 holes of golf rather than attend yesterday’s funeral for the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, killed last week along with his wife and a number of other dignitaries in a terrible airplane crash in Russia.
The connotation that President Barack Obama somehow actively chose to swing the clubs rather than attend Kaczynski’s funeral is, on its face, patently unfair. The president, after all, was not without his reasons. In fact, his reasons looked kind of like this:
In case you don’t recognize it, what you see in the photo above is the eruption of the Icelandic volcano I like to affectionately call Mt. Kjellejellejelledingdong. The ash from Mt. Kjellejellejelledingdong, you see, has crippled air travel throughout the world, stranding perhaps hundreds of thousands of passengers across the globe. In fact, my own brother is stuck in London, and my father and stepmother in Spain.
Volcanic ash has been documented to cause the catastrophic failure of jet engines in the past, and it is no wonder that President Barack Obama chose to stay at home rather than travel abroad. In fact, as both the Associated Press and Washington Times pieces pointed out, Obama was not the only head of state who, despite originally planning to attend Kaczynski’s funeral, had to cancel due to the danger of traveling. From the AP story:
The plumes of volcanic ash that ruined travel plans throughout Europe last week kept other world leaders away from the funeral, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy – though there was no word as to whether they too had taken to the links.
Other world leaders found ways to attend the funeral, including Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who made an 18-hour drive, while Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus travelled by car and train. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych also attended.
The late president’s close friend, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, also managed to attend, flying in from Georgia through Rome.
Now, as refreshing as it may be for a change to have the Associated Press so overtly cynical towards and critical of Barack Obama, I don’t particularly care for bias toward any direction in what is supposed to be a straight news piece. That other world leaders were able to attend the Polish president’s funeral through over-the-road or over-the-rail travel, or even under-the-clouds, low-level air travel is inconsequential when it comes to the non-attendance by the president of the United States — I’m no aviator, but crossing the Atlantic and flying all the way from Washington, D.C. to Krakow at low altitude so as to avoid a potentially deadly ash cloud seems a little less than optimal.
Therefore, where Barack Obama had a busy Sunday, he suddenly found himself with some free time. And, as a guy myself who doesn’t quite know what weekend free time even looks like anymore, I cannot blame the president one bit for taking advantage of the gap in scheduling to tee up a few balls. Not one bit.
Now, am I saying that, deep down, Barack Obama absolutely did not use the ash plume from Mt. Kjellejellejelledingdong as an excuse to avoid world leaders and in fact an entire region he has shown disdain for in the past? Of course not. I think that’s quite a fair assessment, actually.
And here’s where the defense of our president ends and criticism begins.
First, as the Washington Times piece points out, yesterday’s round of golf brings Barack Obama to 32 rounds of golf played in the 16 or so months he has spent in the presidency. Considering that former President George W. Bush played 24 rounds of golf during his entire eight years in office, Barack Obama looks like Tiger Woods in comparison. (Minus the diner waitresses and porn stars and tee-box-to-green talent, that is.) It’s obvious that he enjoys the game. It’s also obvious that, unlike Bush, he has not been criticized for playing golf while American servicemen and servicewomen die on the battlefield.
Second, Barack Obama has a track record of ignoring, abandoning and intentionally weakening Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Last fall, the Obama administration brushed aside as inconsequential the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and hesitated to send any representative at all, a move which was described as a “snub” by much of the Polish press. From Nigdy Wiecej Wojny, here at America’s Right on August 31, 2009 (a link with some photos I took of the Nazi invasion site):
A few weeks ago, when I was in Gdansk with family, we toured briefly the Grodzisko Fort, an outpost in the hills which had been erected by Napoleon during the 19th century. Four years ago, however, a trip to Gdansk led us to the Westerplatte.
It was there, 70 years ago today, that German forces first invaded Poland in the first of what was to be many battles in the European theater during World War II. That first day, 205 Polish soldiers armed with only one 75 mm field gun, two 37 mm anti-tank guns, a few mortars and not enough machine guns to go around, repelled attack after attack by more than three thousand German naval infantrymen. For a week, the German attack was spurned, despite the area having no formal fortifications besides concrete crew barracks, despite those barracks under constant bombardment from the Baltic Sea and skies above, and despite the Poles knowing that reinforcements would not be arriving at any point soon, if at all.
Today, leaders from across the world will come to the port city to commemorate the start of the war, and undoubtedly the bravery exhibited and sacrifice made by those Polish soldiers at the Westerplatte. Among those in attendance: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who undoubtedly will have many of the same things to say as she did at Buchenwald in May; British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose own mother was hiding in Poland during the war and whose government just dedicated a memorial to the 500,000 Polish soldiers who fought alongside the Brits in the war; and Russian PM Vladimir Putin (that capitalist pig), who plans to defend the former Soviet Union against those who believe that Stalin was more aggressor than liberator. Leaders from Italy and France, among other countries, will also be present.
Notably missing, however, will be the American president. The Polish press has actually been buzzing about the perceived “snub” for days, some wondering whether it was in response to an open letter to the president sent back in July by leaders in Central and Eastern Europe lamenting an apparent shift in geographical focus of American foreign policy. Regardless, of motivation, today’s Washington Times offers an excellent look at the failure of the White House with regard to commemorating the start of the Second World War in Europe:
“The Polish government sent out the invitation three months ago to the White House, but an answer was received only on Wednesday, a mere five days before the ceremony. Repeated attempts over the summer by the Poles to contact the White House and the State Department met with a long period of silence. One White House aide actually replied that everyone was on vacation until after Labor Day, which caused a Polish official to say he apologized that Adolf Hitler had invaded his country on Sept. 1.
“The initial answer from the White House almost defied belief. The head of the official U.S. delegation was not to be a member of the Obama administration but former Clinton Defense Secretary William J. Perry. Over the weekend, a change was announced, and the U.S. delegation is to be headed by National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones. Gen. Jones will head the U.S. delegation, rather than President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gen. Jones will stand alongside Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Anyone want to play “who doesn’t belong in this picture?”
“The lack of understanding of European history and sensitivities was not lost on the Polish chattering classes. They have been in a justifiable uproar over this mother of all snubs, feeling a mixture of humiliation and neglect. For an administration that pledged to prioritize public diplomacy, this treatment of an ally was appalling. Unsurprisingly, popular opinion of the United States took a serious nose dive in Poland.”
And then, of course, in a move far more audacious than the Westerplatte snub, this administration left Poland and the Czech Republic twisting in the political wind when it decided to shelve the land-based missile defense system promised by the Bush Administration. In that case, both the Polish president and Czech president stuck their necks out in agreeing to host the system, greatly angering the Russians in the process.
In fact, Barack Obama brought with him such a shift in focus away from allies in Eastern Europe that many leaders from the area sent him an open letter in July of last year expressing disappointment with the apparent shift in American foreign policy. An excerpt from the letter (emphasis mine):
Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could “check the box” and move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the region’s transatlantic orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever.
That view is premature. All is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region. The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere, runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon. Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission’s investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders.
Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant – and we feel it. Although we are full members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama’s remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay fears about the Alliance´s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States.
Folks, I stand firm in my assertion that this president, like any other, deserves praise for good judgment and decent conduct just as he deserves criticism for poor decisions and conduct. I don’t like unfair criticism. And, absent some sort of statement proving that this president relished in the chance to hit the links rather than attend Lech Kaczynski’s funeral, I think we need to better focus our criticism.
If we’re going to highlight the president’s golf habit, let’s not say that as president he should not be golfing with what little free time he has — instead, we should focus on pointing out the inherent hypocrisy when it comes to the mainstream media’s treatment of this presidential duffer versus the last.
And if we’re going to criticize the president for snubbing Poland, let’s not criticize him for failing to foresee an act of God which has halted travel for so many people across the globe. Instead, let’s point out the times that this president has forsaken our allies, even in perfect weather.