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Sherman Says: President Obama’s foreign policy is currently in sleep mode

BUFFALO — President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous summation of his foreign policy contained just seven words: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” If he were alive today, I think he would urge President Barack Obama to get to a hardware store, right away.

Our current president’s reluctance to take a hard stance on some elements of foreign policy is not new. When campaigning for office in 2008, he pledged to talk more with Iran about its secret nuclear development project, before taking any more tangible action.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning, for some time, about the looming threat to his nation. “The Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would be infinitely more costly than any scenario you can imagine, to stop it,” he said recently.

While the tension in the Middle East lingers, relations between the United States and Russia took a nose dive last week, when Russia ignored U.S. requests and granted American fugitive Edward Snowden a year’s asylum. The former spy agency contractor was permitted to slip out of a Moscow airport, after more than five weeks in limbo, an obvious affront to Obama.

A summit meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin is now in jeopardy, but lack of a rapid response from the Oval Office is a painful indicator of the nation’s weakened posture on the world stage.

Obama is said to be considering a boycott of the G20 summit in Russia next month, immediately after the planned summit with Putin, or of the Winter Olympics, which Russia will host in February.

The United States wanted Russia to extradite Snowden, to face criminal charges, including espionage for disclosing secret American Internet and telephone surveillance programs. Putin replied that Snowden could stay in Russia, provided he ceased leaking U.S. intelligence secrets.

Our patience played directly into Putin’s hands. He must admire Snowden’s arrogance. He certainly does not fear American reaction.

“We see this as an unfortunate development, and we are extremely disappointed by it,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“He is the most wanted man on planet Earth,” said Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Russian lawyer. “Edward assured me that he is not planning to publish any documents that blacken the American government.”

Snowden is now the fox in the henhouse, and we stand by, “disappointed.”

“Russia has stabbed us in the back, and each day that Mr. Snowden is allowed to roam free is another twist of the knife,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has been allied with the Obama administration.

Obama has staked his legacy on domestic issues that remain contentious and in flux. Yet, the foreign policy ledger has become even more smudged by continuing tension and bloodshed in Syria and Egypt.

No one would be naïve enough to suggest American military intervention, on any of these fronts. Yet, we have clearly lost our edge, when it comes to a stare down with the likes of Putin. As he reinforced his prestige, by nodding approval to Snowden, he lowered American credibility by another notch.

Rep. Paul Ryan, running mate of unsuccessful presidential candidate Mitt Romney, echoed Schumer’s assessment.

“We have extradition treaties; we have relationships,” he said. “If we’re not able to convinces our allies and other countries ... that doesn’t speak very well to our credibility. That does not help our image, whatsoever.”



Obama should have taken a more direct, personal approach to the Snowden deal.

“I’m not going to have one case of a suspect, who we’re trying to extradite, suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading, on a whole host of other issues, simply to get a guy extradited so that he can face the justice system here in the United States,” Obama said.

He can scratch extradition off his to-do list now.

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.


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