05/30/2013 11:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Obama: Falling Behind the Curve of Crisis


If it's not one thing for President Barack Obama, it's another. Already struggling in trying to get ahead of three controversies threatening to engulf his administration, he now has heightened geopolitical crises to manage.

Obama is facing sudden crises at both ends of his geopolitical event from the Middle East and Central Asia to the Asia-Pacific.

At the old end of the pivot, a widening war looms in and around Syria. At the new end of the pivot, China's role in cyber-espionage/warfare is reported to be every bit as great as many had feared. And Obama holds an early June summit with new Chinese President Xi Jinping here in California. (Here, incidentally, is an archive of my Pivot-related pieces.)

U.S. Senator John McCain spent his Memorial Day meeting with Syrian rebel leaders, first in Turkey, then inside Syria itself.

Not too surprisingly, proposed Syrian peace talks next month in Geneva, conceived by the U.S. and Russia, are in grave jeopardy as neither side in the Syrian civil war is accepting the others' demands for participation. In fact, the Syrian opposition is refusing to take part. The intransigence comes as major new arms seem set to flow into the conflict on both sides.

The Assad regime is saying that advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile systems, the S-300, are arriving in-country.

Once these are in place, any no-fly zone becomes extraordinarily problematic. And Israeli threats to take out the missiles, raised this week by the new Israeli defense minister, are also problematic. Because Russian advisors usually accompany advanced weapons.

Russia confirmed it's sending the advanced anti-air missiles, already contracted for, in the wake of the European Union's lifting on Tuesday of its arms embargo on weapons for the Syrian rebels. Moscow was very displeased by recent Israeli air strikes inside its longtime ally Syria.

With reports of Chinese hackers compromising not only key U.S. ally Australia's new intelligence facilities but also the systems of key U.S. defense contractors building some of America's most important new weapons, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is off to the annual Shangri-la Dialogue with Asian defense ministers Friday through Sunday in Singapore. China carried out a major naval exercise last week across the South China Sea, virtually all of which it claims to the decided annoyance of its neighbors on that critical body of water.

Obama himself will hold a summit meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping the weekend after next at the old Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, California.

Chinese miltary hackers have reportedly stolen plans for a new $600 million Australian intelligence headquarters as part of a growing wave of cyber attacks against business and military targets of the key U.S. ally in America's Pacific Pivot. The hackers also stole confidential information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which houses the the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia's ABC Television said late on Monday.

Even before all this, Monday's events pointed up how events could escalate into a larger war in the Middle East.

In a dramatic move, Senator John McCain slipped into Syria late Monday to meet with Syrian rebels. After holding talks in Turkey, the Vietnam War hero, retired Navy captain, and 2008 Republican presidential nominee crossed into Syria to meet with 20 rebel brigade commanders.

Syrian rebels want the U.S. and its allies to implement a no-fly zone over Syria, a mission made much more difficult by Russia's agreement to provide advanced anti-aircraft systems to the Assad regime. The rebels also want heavy weapons to counter the regime's armaments.

They also want U.S. air strikes against Hezbollah forces now openly aiding the Assad regime. Hezbollah targets in Beirut, Lebanon were hit Sunday in rocket attacks likely carried out by Syrian rebels.

Their wish list, as subsequent events have made clear, is a recipe for expanded war.

Meanwhile, as he muses about "going Bulworth," which I discussed last last week, in order to cut through the haze of hack politics and shallow PR, Obama is continuing to struggle with three domestic political crises around the disastrous spin of the Benghazi disaster, inappropriate IRS targeting of conservative groups, and secret and intrusive monitoring of the news media.

He tried late last week to set out a new line on his fight against jihadists and the role of the news media in covering that. With perhaps more than a bit of conventionally clever spin to heighten the effect.

For that big Obama speech on terrorism that San Francisco activist Medea Benjamin, one of the best-known demonstrators around, so successfully infiltrated and heckled today was at National Defense University in Washington. Which, not incidentally, is on a U.S. Army base. Amazing security, eh?

Of course, intentionally or not, having Benjamin's heckling so respectfully received by the president had the effect of playing up his rhetorical placation of the left within his speech.

But the actual policy changes were few.

U.S. officials are now saying that China was behind a massive hacking of important defense contractors and future American weapons systems. President Barack Obama will hold a summit meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping the weekend after next in Rancho Mirage, California.

Obama affirmed that he doesn't intend to kill American citizens through drone strikes who are not an "imminent" threat. (Though that is a term prone to interpretation.) He affirmed that he won't use armed drones in the U.S.

He strongly defended the drone strike program to date but said that special care will be taken to avoid civilian casualties in the future.

With his attorney general, who may be in some very hot water, caught signing a warrant designating Fox News reporter James Risen as a potential "co-conspirator," Obama affirmed his new-found support for a new press shield law.

He called for an end to the endless war on terror by revisiting the original authorization legislation, but left things rather vague.

He again called for the shutdown of Gitmo, and appointed a special envoy to ease the transfer of some prisoners to other countries, but much of the actual implementation remains in the hands of Congress.

In other words, Obama didn't succeed in cutting through anything with Bulworth-style candor. If the speech helped him, it didn't help much.

It's really too bad for Obama, because with the sudden press of events, he can use all the help he can get.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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