It’s Only Words

The Obama approach to handling possible evolving crises is to concentrate on placating people without doing anything.

Larry Gordon

OpEds Larry Gordon
Larry Gordon

It might be a revolutionary revelation—then again, it may simply be everyday business as usual. The news here is that words used by members of the Obama administration—including the president, of course—have no real meaning or substance to them aside from the superficial assurance on policy they provide that either threaten or provide comfort to enemies and allies where need be.

This tactic runs the gamut from warning that Syria would be crossing an invisible red line if it resorted to using chemical weapons against its own citizens to the repeated insistence that this president would protect the so-called “unshakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel.

The astounding phenomenon here is that there is a value placed on the pronouncements themselves without the need that they actually be supported by policy or action on the ground should the occasion arise.

Instead of Iran being able to launch a nuclear missile at the Jewish state in the next year, the current deal might be able to hold those...designs for as much as a decade or more. Mr. Obama believes that is just a sensational bargain.
Let’s take the news from Baltimore last week as a way of utilizing this formula. The Baltimore City state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, indicted and arrested six police officers last Friday with an array of charges from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter in the case of the death of Freddie Gray, a suspected drug dealer and an ex-convict with a string of arrests for drug use, drug sales, and robbery, just to name a few.

The death of Mr. Gray led to a night of wild violence in Baltimore in poverty-stricken precincts with an awful reputation for unusually high crime. On Friday, Ms. Mosby decided to bypass the grand jury system, not because her case against the officers is so ironclad but because—quite possibly—the case is so extremely weak. Going to a grand jury and then finding that they would refuse to indict the officers, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island earlier this year, would only exacerbate the situation and possibly lead to worse violence. Going straight to an indictment and arrest of the cops stemmed the rising tide of violent protests and has now bought some time for law enforcement to figure out what to do next.

The important thing here is that the man on the street in these communities who for the most part is satisfied with being fed a low dose of information already feels that a measure of justice has been exacted and that he can move on from here.

This is the Obama approach to handling what can evolve into an out-of-control crisis. That is, say and do something that has little or no substance to it. This requires that the players and officials use words and phrases that placate people but as time elapses require little or no substantive actions.

Over the last few days, legal experts far and wide have chimed in, suggesting that it is unlikely that these charges against the six Baltimore police officers will amount to anything more than a slap on the wrist for the cops for failing to strap Mr. Gray into a seatbelt in the police wagon where he was apparently so seriously injured. That’s a far cry from second-degree murder.

Famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz said on Fox News earlier this week that this tactic of “overcharging” when there is a suspected crime committed usually backfires. It did exactly that in the Trayvon Martin–George Zimmerman situation in Florida a few years ago where a jury acquitted Mr. Zimmerman. And then in both the Ferguson and Staten Island cases this past year, the grand juries found insufficient evidence to indict.

Obviously Ms. Mosby did the right thing—mostly because the rioting and the looting have stopped and the curfew in the city was able to be lifted earlier than expected. Mr. Dershowitz said that this is a misuse of the law. It was a play right out of the Obama-Clinton playbook of “say a lot but do little and hope that as time goes by the issue falls off center stage and the media’s agenda.” This has been applied by both with a modicum of success.

The next stops for this strategic anomaly are the Arab Gulf States that are specifically concerned about the possibility of Iran building nuclear bombs that will threaten all their non-democratic-but-allied-with-the-U.S. regimes. Later this month, the U.S. will convene a summit of Middle Eastern countries at Camp David—refreshingly without Israel being present. America is trying to figure out a way to assuage concerns of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar—all fabulously wealthy countries that subscribe to Islamic philosophies that differ with Iran. As a result of the Iranian thirst for hegemony in the region, a nuclear Iran poses a very real and present threat to those regimes.

The Obama administration is heavily invested in making the deal with Iran work regardless of how unworkable and damaging it may be in either the short term or the long run. For now, the issue that has to be dealt with needs to be the concern of the Gulf States. Israel has already been handled by neglecting Israel’s concerns for the most part and announcing that a deal with Iran is to Israel’s advantage.

Simply put, the administration’s position vis-à-vis Israel is that instead of Iran being able to launch a nuclear missile at the Jewish state in the next year, the current deal might be able to hold those evil and destructive designs for as much as a decade or more. Mr. Obama believes that is just a sensational bargain. As for the president’s assurance that “Iran will not get a nuclear bomb on my watch,” well, that’s just heartwarming, except when you consider that Mr. Obama will be gone from the White House in 20 months. But there it is again: definitive words with impact that says much but means just about nothing.

So how is the administration going to placate the Gulf States that actually border Iran as opposed to Israel that has somewhat of a buffer (even though in the age of intercontinental ballistic missiles that does not mean that much)? The New York Times reported over last weekend that the president had not yet settled on what to offer the Gulf States but that there were several “difficult-to-pull-off” options.

The Times reports that while a security treaty with Saudi Arabia was an option, it is unlikely because such an agreement would have to be ratified by Congress and that would run into opposition from Israel supporters on both sides of the aisle.

So the Obama administration is considering a letter of commitment to these countries that is put in writing but not sent out for Congressional approval. Such an agreement would only take effect if these countries were attacked by outside forces and not apply if the government came under attack from political opponents within their own countries. If it is up to the word-twisters in the Obama administration to determine what is an enemy within and what is an enemy in the Middle East, the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris can forget about the U.S. coming to their aid should they be attacked by Iran.

In last month’s Commentary Magazine, Sohrab Ahmari, an editorial-page writer for the Wall Street Journal based in London said, “The dissonance between the Obama administration rhetoric and reality is not limited to Israel policy. From the Sunni Arab States to the Ukraine, American allies have grown accustomed to a White House that professes the deepest love even as it shirks an old commitment and embraces their enemy.”

He adds on Israel policy: “The administration’s bet all along has been that it can degrade the alliance from within while maintaining an outward narrative of stalwart support for Israel.” This is how the administration can hope to curry favor with Iran by turning on Israel at the UN while simultaneously professing that this change in policy is a diplomatic dose of tough love for a wayward Jewish state.

The Obama administration has repeatedly pursued the same course—saying one thing while doing another. Once the leading officials and spokespeople for the administration grow accustomed to indulging consistently in mistruth, after a while it becomes natural and easier.

That’s what we saw in Baltimore last week with the extremely difficult-to-prove and excessive criminal charges of the six officers. But now that the system has the events in its grips, the public will grow tired as the story fades and gets lost in the rush to new and refreshing scandals and stories on the cable and network news. It might take a few months, but, ultimately, even as the charges against the officers are either dismissed or withdrawn, the story will slowly be forgotten and rundown by empty words and promises that were never intended to be fulfilled.