Sitting short in the saddle

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WASHINGTON -- If the Barack Obama Story were to be made into a movie these days, it's certain that a John Wayne type would not be cast in the leading role.

There's little in our current president that smacks of intimidating true grit. That at least is the critical assessment in some quarters in light of his disinclination to mount up and lead the charge for a roundup of Edward Snowden, the on-the-lam leaker of National Security Agency secrets.

As Snowden began his asylum-seeking odyssey from Hong Kong to Moscow and who knows where next, Obama instead of screaming bloody murder against the Chinese and Russians settled for controlled lamentations and the standard diplomatic course.

He told reporters that in pursuit of Snowden's extradition "we are following the appropriate legal channels and working with various countries to make sure that all the rules are followed." He referred further inquiries "to the Justice Department, which has been actively involved in this issue."

That reaction did not sit well with Eliot Cohen, a former George W. Bush administration aide, in what sounded like an unfavorable comparison with the bring-him-back-alive-or-dead edict of his old boss toward Osama bin Laden. Which, coincidently, Bush didn't but Obama did, by the grace and grit of the Navy Seals.

Cohen, who also was a policy adviser to defeated Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, told The Washington Post: "Nobody's afraid of this guy. Nobody's saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him, and that's an awful position for the president of the United States to be in."

Another former Romney and Bush advisor, Richard Williamson, told the Post that Obama's failure to achieve extradition of Snowden was "a condemnation of the president's policies of disengagement and retrenchment around the world." It was only the latest rap against what critics have embraced as Obama's preference for "leading from behind," as in his secondary support to the British and French in ousting Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.

Some of the same critics also jumped all over Obama for his transitory violation of Theodore Roosevelt's advice to speak softly and carry a big stick, when he recently declared that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had cross a red line by using chemical weapons in its civil war against insurgents.

Obama, after much soul-searching or at least navel-gazing, finally decided to provide some military assistance to the jumbled opposition, but far short of any John Wayne cavalry charge to the rescue. Once again, the president's obvious disinclination to be seen as a jaw-jutting George W. Bush clone brought anguished whines from his critics.

What seems lost in all this yearning for more of a bully boy in the Oval Office is Obama's determination from the start to make a sharp and clear turn away from the bravado foreign policy that launched an ill-advised war of choice in Iraq and was a costly diversion from the war of necessity in Afghanistan against the perpetrators the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A first consequence of that pivot was at least an improvement in how American foreign policy was viewed abroad, as a return to greater reliance on collective security among the members of the international community. At the same time, however, Obama has left himself open to allegations of indecisiveness and even timidity in America's world leadership role, specifically in Syria.

There may be a certain simplistic satisfaction picturing a more fire-breathing, chest-thumping U.S. president in the style of a Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush letting the world know that nobody's going to push Uncle Sam around or ignore his wishes. But the same world remains too hazardous for the man in the Oval Office to engage in bluster for the sake of demonstrating personal or national resolve. That sort of role-playing is best left to John Wayne on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, as CNN ludicrously does an urgent stakeout of the Moscow Airport for hours for a fleeting glimpse of Snowden on the run, the rest us, including B. Obama of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, have other things to occupy our attention and time.

(Jules Witcover's latest book is Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

Jailed police officer [Poll]

Did a Baltimore judge make the right call in sentencing a city police officer to 45 days in jail for beating up a drug suspect who had broken into the home of the officer's girlfriend? Another officer set the stage for the attack.

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