DANA MILBANK: Obama: A tale of 'tyranny' and weakness

Washington Post Writers Group Published:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama is such a weak strongman. What's more, he is a feeble dictator and a timid tyrant.

That, at any rate, is Republicans' critique of him. With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Obama's critics pivoted seamlessly from complaining about his overreach to fretting that he is being too cautious. Call it Operation Oxymoron.

Last Wednesday, I sat in a House hearing and listened to Republicans describe Obama exercising "unparalleled use of executive power" and operating an "uber-presidency." They accused him of acting like a "king" and a "monarch," of making the United States like a "dictatorship" or a "totalitarian government" by exercising "imperial" and "magisterial power."

But after events in Ukraine, this very tyrant was said to be so weak that it's "shocking."

"We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proclaimed Sunday on CNN.

In theory, it is possible for Obama to rule domestic politics with an iron fist and yet play the 98-pound weakling in foreign affairs. But it doesn't make a lot of sense that one person would vacillate between those two extremes. A better explanation is Obama's critics are so convinced that he is wrong about everything that they haven't paused to consider the consistency of their accusations.

Obama is neither tyrant nor pushover. In general, the criticism of him being inconsistent and indecisive is closer to the mark. But the accusation that he has been feckless in Ukraine is still dubious because those demanding a stronger response have been unable to come up with one.

After Obama threatened Friday that "there will be costs" to Russia's action in Ukraine, my colleague Charles Krauthammer, who in the past likened the president to Napoleon, said on Fox News that "everybody is shocked by the weakness of Obama's statement."

But if Obama had made specific threats toward Russia, he would have set himself up for the conservatives' criticism of his Syria policy -- that he was drawing "red lines" he wasn't prepared to enforce. And suppose he were willing to draw red lines and back them up with military might? Inevitably, he'd be accused of trying to distract from Obamacare or other domestic troubles.

Even critics of the "weak" Obama response don't propose a military response in Ukraine. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, there was, similarly, no consideration of military action by President George W. Bush's administration, and Vladimir Putin got away with his aggression.

A little over a month ago, the Heritage Foundation president, former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., called Obama a "playground bully" and an "imperial president." Now DeMint accuses him of making "weak statements" that will "only invite aggression."

Six weeks ago, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a Senate candidate, posted a photo of Obama on Facebook with the messages "Stop the imperial president" and "Stop the Obama power grab." Now Cotton has issued a statement accusing the president of "trembling inaction."

Grabbing power with trembling inaction? Only the most diffident of despots could pull that off.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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  • obama doesn't understand why putin didn't read obama's memo regarding no room in 21st century for dictators. obama gave in to putin on missle defense, syria and promised to make the US just like socialist comrads. But...obama is no pushover. The establishment repubs have caved in to every demand of obama.

  • Bush looked into Vlads eyes, and saw his soul. Obama told Vlad he could be more flexible after his re-election. Now What? Community Organizer vs KGB. Guess who wins.