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It seems President Obama needs a new reset button.
Actually, he’s needed a new one for a long time. The one he has is obviously not working.
At the beginning of his first term, Obama assured America and the world that things would be better – much better – simply because of the grand superiority of his person. Remember, oceans would stop rising?
He was so much smarter, so much wiser, so much more perceptive than that pretend cowboy, George W. Bush, that the enmities built with other nations over the previous eight years would vanish like the mists after sunrise on a summer’s day.
He would get rid of the few, marginal terrorist groups hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, and push the “reset button” with the Middle East, China, Russia, Africa, South America and everywhere else. Tensions would ease and the world would enter an era of cooperation.
It sounded so good - good enough for the Nobel Committee to award Obama its Peace Prize barely 10 months into his presidency without a concrete achievement, other than speeches, to merit it.
But “hope” has collided with reality and come out the loser.
Somehow, scolding leaders of other nation states by telling them they’re stuck in the past century, threatening imaginary “red lines," and trying to guilt-trip terrorists with a hashtag campaign on Twitter doesn’t seem to impress them.
Neither does charging people in hostile regimes on the other side of the world with crimes and demanding that they be delivered to the United States for trial.
The leaders of those organizations view that stuff for exactly what it is – toothless posturing.
The big announcement this past week of indictments against five Chinese military officers for criminal hacking is just the latest evidence.
The Chinese have been stealing America’s intellectual property for years. Security vendor Mandiant, in a report more than 15 months ago, pinpointed Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army, housed in a building in the Pudong district of Shanghai, as the group behind data theft of hundreds of terabytes from multiple U.S. firms.
So now Attorney General Eric Holder has demanded that the Chinese turn over five of the hackers to face justice in America.
It has probably been difficult for Chinese leaders to keep a straight face. They first denied any of the charges, calling them “fabricated facts," then announced that China would suspend its participation in the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group and accused the United States, through the National Security Agency, of doing much more spying on them than the other way around.
Nobody outside the administration – not even the president’s supporters on the left - expect the Chinese to hand over the indicted officers or sanction them in any way. About the only thing they’ll have to do is make sure they don’t travel to a country that would turn them over to us. Big deal.
The best the president’s supporters can say is that the United States has “sent a strong message” to China. Whoa, scary stuff. The Chinese know that if they keep spying, next year we’ll indict a few more unreachable hackers and send an even stronger message.
And that is the heart of the problem. Outside of the commendable killing of Osama bin Laden, plus various drone strikes that sometimes kill civilians and otherwise make martyrs out of individual terrorists, Obama seems unprepared to do anything other than send “strong messages,” because he apparently assumed that everybody would like us once he took office.
Obama is good at changing the subject. After catastrophic foreign policy failures he pivots, with the help of a compliant mainstream media, to talking about how Republicans have declared a “war on women" or are to blame for “inequality.”
But that only works in the United States.
Recall that after an organized terrorist attack killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, the president vowed that he would “not rest” until the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Since then, an obscure filmmaker who had nothing to do with the attack has been jailed, but none of the actual perpetrators have been caught or killed. And there has been plenty of resting, unless you want to classify fundraisers and golf as hard work.
In fact, the most energetic efforts from Obama and his administration have involved trying to block any full investigation of the attack and demonizing Republicans for demanding the whole truth about it. The president claims it is a “phony” scandal. If he really believed that, he’d be turning over everything the Republicans have asked for to prove how phony it is, instead of stonewalling.
The result of this is predictable. Since Benghazi, Obama has made threatening noises to Syria, calling for President Bashar al Assad to step down. He's asserting that the use of chemical weapons by Assad would be a “red line” that would prompt, well, he never did say what it would prompt. And sure enough, it prompted nothing.
Since Benghazi, Obama has tried to belittle Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Putin has annexed portions of Ukraine.
These sorts of things will continue because the reset button Obama has pressed means not only that other nations don’t fear us. They don’t respect us, either.
The president would do well to ditch the reset button. He needs a reality button.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at email@example.com