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By Greg Smith

Instead of alienating ourselves from the world, I want America – once again – to lead.” Barack Obama, July 15, 2008.

President Obama ran for office on a partial platform of improving U.S. relations with foreign countries but his administration has shown a lack of mastery of international affairs. Over a year into his second term foreign policy is ill-defined, buffeted by events and hamstrung by the secretary of state’s pre-occupation with a diplomat’s equivalent of cold fusion.

John Kerry has spent much of the past year trying to forge a framework for a final settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. In itself that would be fine, but the world is not on hold and there is no indication either government is ready to make the major concessions needed to end possibly the most bitter international dispute in modern history. Lately talk is Kerry has made progress, but it will be easy to tell if a real agreement is within reach: Iran’s proxies will rain missiles on Israel as never before.

The Obama administration may not be at fault for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but President Obama’s responses in Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea as well as America’s recent diplomatic posture probably gave Vladimir Putin the impression the U.S. would respond to its invasion of Ukraine only with threats of a diplomatic nature.

The president and secretary of state are absolutely at fault for having three months’ notice there was a major problem brewing in one of Central Europe’s fledgling democracies and doing absolutely nothing about it. Given the likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO if Kiev lurched back toward the West, Russia’s reaction to events was quite obvious. Yet the administration had either no plan at all, or worse it had a plan and that’s what we’re seeing play out.

After 9/11 U.S. policy was too predicated on full military responses. But this president has swung even further to the other side of an effective mix of hard and soft power. Worse yet, over five years in and he doesn’t seem to have learned how to deal with trouble spots. Not every other world leader views realpolitik as a bad thing. It’s like we’re playing tennis, but Putin is playing football. The time to make adjustments is before we’re flat on our diplomatic back with a concussion.

Given Europe’s dependence on Russian petroleum exports, America’s initial response of threatening Russia with sanctions and isolation are doomed to fail and America’s partners – as well as their enemies — around the world will see to the extent they can count on us in a pinch. Simply not alienating ourselves from others is not the same as leading.   ©

Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com