Obama's foreign policy: Speak softly and carry no stick

WASHINGTON — We live in a dangerous and chaotic time when terrorism is rapidly spreading across the globe, Russian troops occupy Ukraine, and America has lost its influence abroad.

President Obama’s handling of foreign policy is coming under increasing criticism at home, from friends and foes alike, for its timidity, impotence, and bungling.

As the months race by, Russian President Vladimir Putin has daringly stepped up his invasion of Eastern Ukraine, after seizing and annexing the Crimean peninsula, threatening at one point to take over the country entirely. The former communist KGB agent casually told his top advisers he could take over Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, in two weeks if he wanted to.

Do Obama and the West need further proof of his maniacal ambitions to rebuild a Greater Russia by taking territory from the surrounding independent countries that were once part of what President Reagan called the Evil Empire?

His cross-border military invasion has triggered the worst national security crisis in Europe since the Cold War. But Obama has responded with economic sanctions that were so weak, it further emboldened Putin’s high-wire act. The White House’s tepid response confirmed what Putin had long believed: that he faced an inexperienced foreign policy lightweight who has lost the respect of America’s now confused and divided European allies.

This week, in advance of a meeting with European leaders, Obama flew to the Baltic states, where they fear their tiny countries, with sizable Russian populations, are next on Putin’s list.

But if they expected tough talk from Obama, whose style is to speak softly and carry no stick, they were sorely disappointed. Instead, at a news conference in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, Obama delivered an overly cautious statement that sent a pliant message that he didn’t fully understand what was at stake here.

Putin, on the other hand, was running rings around the president, announcing a dubious plan to end the conflict that would hold on to the Russian rebels’ territorial gains in southeastern Ukraine.

At a news conference, Putin said that he and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had reached a settlement on a peace deal. “Our views … are very close,” he said. It isn’t true, but the gesture was designed to blunt the upcoming meeting of Western allies while appearing as a man who only desired peace. Sure.

Instead of poking holes in Putin’s preposterous, all-for-me deal, Obama sought to emphasize the positive, while telling the Russian bully that only a full military withdrawal would yield a peace agreement.

“There’s an opportunity here,” he told reporters. “But no realistic political settlement can be achieved if, effectively, Russia says, ‘We are going to continue to send tanks and troops and arms and advisers under the guise of separatists who are not homegrown, and the only possible settlement is if Ukraine cedes its territory or its sovereignty or its ability to make its own decisions about its security and its economic future.'”

Putin is playing a high-stakes game of seizing as much territory as he can, then calling for a timeout as he plots his next military move. The West has still not put together any plan to punish him economically or otherwise for his invasion of a sovereign country.

If Obama has a plan, he hasn’t let anyone know what it is. His dissatisfactory remarks Wednesday were, to say the least, underwhelming. Clearly, Putin has concluded that he holds all the high cards in this game and Obama has an empty hand.

Meantime, Obama’s failed policy of full withdrawal from Iraq, even in the face of a rapidly expanding and far more lethal terrorist enemy, is being questioned now more than ever.

Remember when he was campaigning for re-election in 2012, boasting of pulling all of our forces out of Iraq on a stepped-up timetable? As he categorically repeated in just about every stump speech, al-Qaida’s leadership had been “decimated” and we had the terrorists “on the run.”

None of that was true, and intelligence officials knew it wasn’t true. The terrorists, in fact, were rebuilding their ranks in Iraq and establishing new al-Qaida spinoff cells throughout the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

While Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were working hand in glove with Putin on his proposal for an international plan to destroy Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons, the Islamic State was growing rapidly in Syria and Iraq, completely unnoticed.

New reports in recent months are providing additional evidence that al-Qaida and its accomplices have gone global since Obama won re-election on his false claims of slaying the terrorist monster.

This week, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a 55- minute video posted online, announced that a new branch of his terrorist organization has been established in India — where, he said, it would “raise the flag of jihad” throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Zawahiri, a key ally of Afghan Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, said al-Qaida’s top targets included “Bangladesh, Burma, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad and Kashmir.”

What’s happening on the terrorist front not only poses new dangers for our allies, but potentially our homeland, too. Great Britain has stepped up its alert status, and our own intelligence is calling for renewed vigilance here.

All of this has been happening while the president and his national security team looked the other way as the Islamic State has rampaged through Syria — in large part because of the vacuum Obama created by refusing to arm the Free Syrian army’s bid to topple Assad’s dictatorship.

A majority of Americans now disapprove of Obama’s handling of foreign policy. And the Gallup Poll this week reported that his overall job approval rating has sunk to a 39 percent low. Not exactly the kind of credentials that instill respect and confidence either at home or abroad.