Iraq is a crisis for POTUS. So is Ukraine. Ferguson is not.

OK, I sort of said this, in an oblique way, back in this post (which I thought would lead to a great conversation, but which y’all completely ignored).

But I’m going to say it again because I got worked up on the subject over the weekend.

Saturday morning, as we were getting ready to go up to visit Old Salem over the weekend, by way of celebrating our 40th anniversary Sunday, I happened to read this piece in The Washington Post:

President Obama may receive more criticism for vacationing during a crisis

When President Obama emerged after a night of dancing, surf and turf, and partying in Martha’s Vineyard to address rioting and aggressive displays of police behavior in Ferguson, Mo., he said there is no “excuse for violence against police.” But, he added, “there’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests.”

That was enough to anger a group representing police across the country, which argued that Obama ought not weigh in on how the authorities are carrying out their legal duties more than a thousand miles away….

What do you mean, “vacationing during a crisis”? How is what is happening in Ferguson, MO, a “crisis” for POTUS. There’s no way that it is. It’s a state and local matter. If the Missouri National Guard were to fail to keep order there, and the unrest started spilling into other states, it could conceivably become a federal matter. But it wasn’t one when I was reading that on Saturday.

Then, moments later, I read this:

Ukraine forces destroy most of a column of Russian military vehicles, president says

 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday that Ukrainian forces had attacked and destroyed part of a column of Russian military vehicles on Ukrainian territory, a step that, if confirmed, would represent a significant escalation of hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.

Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that “the majority” of a column of Russian military vehicles “had been destroyed by the Ukrainian artillery at night,” his office said in a statement. The announcement came as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that the defense alliance had seen an “incursion” into Ukraine the previous night….

Now you see, an open shooting war between Russia and Ukraine — that is a crisis that is within the realm of what we have a president to deal with.

A crisis of even more immediate concern — or at least, more immediate involvement — is the U.S. military operations against ISIS in Iraq.

If I were inclined to criticize the president for going on vacation during a crisis (which I’m not), I would moan about him playing golf while American pilots are flying close air support for the Iraqi army.

Because, you know, I respect the division between federal and state and local responsibilities.

Increasingly in our world today, we think that because we see something in the news, thanks to modern communications technology, it is somehow our business — and therefore the president’s business.

But that’s not the way a republic with enumerated responsibilities for government officials is supposed to work.

The first and foremost reason we have a federal government is so that the United States, as one nation, can deal with foreign nations — war and peace, diplomacy, trade, immigration; those sorts of things.

I expect POTUS to concern himself with such things as those. And I expect anyone who wants to be POTUS to concern herself with those things — as Hillary Clinton does, and Rand Paul does not. Just to try again to get you interested in that previous post…

24 thoughts on “Iraq is a crisis for POTUS. So is Ukraine. Ferguson is not.

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As I’ve said before, TV news — specifically, 24/7 cable TV news — is a huge part of the problem. I think I’m more mindful of this fact because I don’t normally watch it, so every few years when I do watch some of it (because it’s on when I’m working out, or while I’m giving blood), I’m really slapped in the face by how much the situation has deteriorated since the last time I saw it.

    The most shocking such instance came the evening of the Columbine shootings in 1999. I was working out in the gym in the basement at The State, and one of the cable “news” channels was on, and they just kept blathering on and on and on about it. Two things in particularly jumped out at me about it: First, they weren’t waiting for facts. They were just putting anyone one who had anything to say, and their on-air people just kept yammering even though they didn’t know anything new, and during the time I watched, I heard them have to correct once or twice things they had said earlier.

    The second thing was that they kept cutting to someone standing in front of the White House, and that person kept assuring us that President Clinton would have a statement soon.

    And every time, I would ask the TV, “why?” Why on Earth would I care what the president had to say about a local crime in Colorado — one that did not involved foreign perpetrators, or a federal target? I mean, I had cared what the president had to say about the Oklahoma City bombing, because that was federal. But not this. Not no way, not nohow.

    Things have only gotten worse since then.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The reasons 24/7 TV “news” cause this are complicated, but there are two major factors: They have to have SOMETHING to report to fill all that airtime, so that stories that would be local crime stories — shootings, kidnappings and the like — become national stories. Columbine isn’t a good example of what I mean; it was sufficiently horrific that it would have gone national even in the old days, like the Manson murders. But watch cable news, and you’ll see loads of lesser crimes and events getting play around the globe, things that wouldn’t have gone past the local affiliate’s broadcast 40 years ago.

      The second problem is that we think that if WE care (because we saw it on TV!), then the president should DO something, or at least SAY something. That’s based in emotion, of course, rather than in any rational assessment of the president’s actual responsibilities, but presidents oblige…

  2. Mark Stewart

    I’m mostly confused as to why the police around a major (sort of) American city can’t figure out how to appropriately police their community? The strategic and tactical blunders on display since the killing of that punky kid are fairly staggering. Communication, messaging and leadership appear in short supply around there.

    This clearly isn’t anything that involves the President, no matter who is in office, but as a nation we had better take a hard look at how we handle ourselves locally. If St. Louis is mucking it up this badly, then this is just as possible in many other communities.

      1. Andrew G

        Jumping to Putin =’s Hitler isn’t helpful either. If any analogy holds, Putin is more Slobadon Milosovic.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Hardly. Milosevic didn’t head a former superpower that wants to be a superpower again.

          Yeah, I know people get all bent out of shape when the Nazis are invoked, but it’s an analogy people understand, which is why I use it. And in terms of proportionate power, Putin is closer to Hitler than to Milosevic. And while I don’t have the numbers in front of me as I type this, I’m thinking the imbalance of power between Russia and Ukraine would be similar to that between Germany and Austria…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            Yeah, Ukraine ain’t exactly equipped with all the best military firepower. Heck, they’re crowdfunding the army. Accordingly, I would agree that the balance of power is nowhere near equal. Russia is big, y’all. They have lots of stuff.

            Sounds like the police in Ferguson are better equipped. On that note, those guys have to be running low on tear gas. It’s not like you can go down Wal-Mart and just pick some more up.

        2. bud

          Exactly Andrew. Of course the current situation is not like Hitler. War mongers always resort to the false Nazi analysis every time they want to get the US involved in any foreign situation. And it’s incumbent upon those of us who understand that every situation in the world is not a resurrection of the Third Reich to call them down on it.

  3. Bart

    The arrest of Professor Gates a problem for the POTUS but he chose to stick his nose into it anyway, called the actions of the police “stupid” and for good measure, had a very high profile “beer summit” in the Rose Garden between Gates, police Sgt. Crowley, and naturally Obama. So, if he can intercede in a local issue in Cambridge, then he has set precedent on this one issue and later, chose to make the comment that if he had a son, it could be someone like Trayvon Martin.

    If the POTUS chooses to become involved in “crises” that are not considered to be the business of the POTUS, he opens his actions or lack of to fair criticism.

      1. Bart

        Understand he was probably trying to make up for his comments but once he made the comment, it was out there. Then, the Trayvon Martin comment was made and while understanding he was trying to demonstrate empathy for the family, once again, he made a comment he should have kept to himself.

  4. Barry

    Cable News shares the blame for a lot of it.

    This is major cable news because – quite honestly- a plane hasn’t crashed in the last week or so- and Robin Williams died right before – so 24 continuous coverage had started to fade- then Ferguson happened.

    I have seen “Journalists” speculating for a week now. I have seen some “reporters” on Twitter putting obvious opinions out this week over and over about the police, or the shooting, etc. It’s not reporting- it’s reporters playing opinion columnist.

    and then of course I’ve seen CNN reporters trying to be part of the story.

    and we’ve seen Al Sharpton out leading protests at one point, and then on MSNBC reporting and offering opinions on another.

    Then major newspaper reporters and columnists apparently can’t turn down a request from CNN, Fox, or MSNBC to get on the air- further offering legitimacy to the cable news shows.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Not sure why the DOJ is getting involved at this stage. Normally, the Feds sit back and let the local/state authorities handle something like this. Running a parallel investigation seems strange from a legal perspective, not so much from a political one.

    One silver lining to this situation is that it has produced comic relief in the form of journalists trying to understand firearms and firearm-related things again. The gold-medalist has to be the journalist from who took a picture of some orange foam ear plugs on the ground and tweeted “I believe these are rubber bullets, can anyone confirm?”

    Comedy gold.

    I don’t expect everyone to be able to disassemble and re-assemble an M-1 in the dark, but is identifying little foam earplugs really reaching for the stars?

    1. Silence

      Ferguson is a crisis for the POTUS. Who’s proposing to use M-1’s? I approve, and would also be inclined to provide every squad or detatchment of National Guard soldiers with a Browning Automatic Rifle.

  6. Doug Ross

    In a post on it shows that in local municipal elections, turnout by African Americans was 6% compared to 17% for whites. If they want change in Ferguson, there is probably an election in three months where they can make it happen.

    1. bud

      Good point. And some folks have discovered that and have set up voter recruitment centers. And of course the right wingers are finding that effort “disgusting”. Just check out the latest Breitbart news publication.

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