Why is President Obama suddenly trying to change the track of his presidency? After a month of apparent reconciliation that was supposed to guarantee the smooth passage of power to the president-elect, Obama has unexpectedly decided to take a sharp turn and look into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections by ordering the national intelligence community “to conduct a ’full review’ of Russian interference in the campaign,” according to Mother Jones. A few days later, Obama escalated, hinting “that the United States would retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election while asserting that ‘we need to take action,’ and ‘we will,’” as reported by the New York Times.
Three weeks before he has to hand the White House keys over to Donald Trump — whom the D.C. establishment still considers an impostor — President Obama announced sanctions over Russia’s alleged election-season hacks.
The punishments hit several Russian individuals and entities, including the country’s primary security service, known as the FSB, and its main intelligence directorate, the GRU. The government has also booted 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and sanctioned top intelligence officers within the GRU.
“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said. But as I write this post, Russia is preparing equivalent counter-sanctions that will push both countries back to a Cold War atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the president’s announcement of the sanctions against Russia followed a hard attack on Israel, delivered one day earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry during his long speech at the State Department. Kerry accused Israel of illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, adding that, “there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace. Moreover, the Palestinians will never fully realize their vast potential in a homeland of their own with a one-state solution.”
The sanctions and harsh-but-just attack on Israel, which followed the American non-vote at the U.N. Security Council, triggered strong reactions from Moscow and Tel Aviv. Israel’s reaction was immediate and furious, but they are well aware that hostility between the two countries will end as soon as Trump enters the White House.
As I watch President Obama act with unusual determination, I am saddened that this kind of straightforward actions did not come earlier in his presidency. On second thought, though, I realize that Obama remains enigmatic and very complex, since both of his actions (it is inconceivable that John Kerry would act on his own) are not directed towards Russia and Israel, but against President-elect Donald Trump, as the Hill observes.
The question is whether any of these actions will have any effect on Trump when he comes into office. Or are Obama’s late decisions just an attempt to make Trump’s potential impact as small as possible? Because small he is not.
When elected, President Obama almost seemed to have the aura of a prophet. As I wrote some time ago, “We all hoped. But there were the voices that said that Obama was just talking, that he could not walk the walk. This is the judgment that prevails today. It gave birth to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the rebellions against the political establishment, the populism that attempted to play a disruptive role. It did not happen with Sanders, and I hope that it will not happen with Trump, despite his constant instigation of the crowds at his rallies.”
However, Trump got elected and Obama received him graciously at first, promising him a smooth transition. That, too, is not happening. In spite of his promises, Obama is sending the fight with Trump into the Russian steppes and the distant Middle East. It feels wrong that he is using foreign lands to resolve his own internal, domestic problems. It is just not right, no matter what you think about Putin and Netanyahu. By saying this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t agree with the current president — especially when it comes to the president-elect, who has started to push the country into fear and chaos even before he reaches office. Today’s world is a dangerous place, and if you ask me, I would much rather see Obama serving another term than watch Trump’s adventurous team in action. But still, why didn’t Obama tell the truth to the Israeli prime minister’s face when they were still sitting at the negotiation table? Using his last minutes of the presidency to drop smoke-screen bombs does not make any sense. Or is there something we do not know that will surface later? Perhaps in Obama’s biography?
However, even liberal publications like Foreign Policy, which are measuring the conduct of one of America’s most talented presidents, cannot avoid discussing the bloody stain of Syria that will stay with Obama forever.
It is also worth rereading that long interview in the Atlantic, which describes Obama’s mental torture when he faced the important decision that later helped to kill 400,000 people and throw the entire European continent in jeopardy. It is for this reason that no president or man of power should ever play his country’s courtyard games in a neighbor’s garden. Never.