EDITORIAL: The president’s reset button

Timidity is no substitute for face-to-face payback

This is what President Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia looks like. He abruptly canceled plans Wednesday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month when he goes to Russia for the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg. This is payback for Russia’s grant of temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker whom Mr. Obama dismissed not long ago as an inconsequential “29-year-old hacker.”

The administration’s tone has changed even more substantially from the March 2009 happy-talk photo-op when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a red “reset” button as a token of improved relations.

The shifting policies are of a piece with this administration’s revisionism, foreign and domestic, on full display at Mr. Obama’s sixth visit to Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” on Tuesday. Asked about the temporary shuttering of about 20 embassies across the Middle East and North Africa owing to terrorism threats, Mr. Obama took credit for “putting al Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels.”

This is a clever turn of phrase, attempting to limit the discussion of al Qaeda to its mischief in Afghanistan and Pakistan, excluding talk about its far more active branches on the Arabian Peninsula and across North Africa. Mr. Obama once boasted that al Qaeda was “on the run,” but he concedes now they’re not really going anywhere.

State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki, trying to explain all the embassy closings in the Islamic countries, took slippery verbal cues from her boss. It’s inaccurate to call an evacuation an evacuation; the evacuation in Yemen was merely “an ordered departure” and “a reduction in staff.” The evacuations were presumably ordered to prevent “workplace violence.”

The president put disingenuous rhetoric to work on the domestic front as well. “The unemployment rate has been ticking down,” he said, “and housing is improving.” The facts tell a different story. Keith Hall, a researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, finds that nearly all jobs created in the past few months have been part-time gigs. Housing, meanwhile, is “improving” only in the sense that more people are living under the same roof. According to a Pew study released last week, 36 percent of young adults aged 18 to 31 are still living with their parents. That’s 21.6 million young adults still in the nest, the highest level in the 45 years that statistic has been tracked.

It’s not the job of a late-night television comedian to fact-check the president’s claims. That’s why the president has grown so fond of appearing where awed interlocutors throw up softballs that shed no light on the administration’s vacillations, waffling and evasions about an unrealistic domestic agenda. Payback is what Vladimir Putin deserves, and the way Mr. Obama should deliver it is face to face, toe to toe, with no reset necessary.

The Washington Times

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