(CNSNews.com) – White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday the Obama administration’s foreign policies in a number of areas have enhanced the world’s “tranquility” – a word that raised eyebrows as reporters pointed to situations in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine and the South China Sea.
More than one reporter during Monday’s press briefing referred to a front-page Wall Street Journal article highlighting some of those crises, and citing security strategists as saying “the breadth of global instability now unfolding hasn’t been seen since the late 1970s.”
“How does the White House react to the notion that the president is a bystander to all these crises?” asked Fox News’ Ed Henry, citing the widening gaps between the sides in the Iranian nuclear talks, the conflict in and around Gaza, and the Syrian civil war.
“I think that there have been a number of situations in which you’ve seen this administration intervene in a meaningful way, that has substantially furthered American interests and substantially improved the, uh, you know, the – the tranquility of the global community,” Earnest replied.
ABC News’ Jon Karl quoted Attorney General Eric Holder’s assessment in an interview aired Sunday that the terrorist potential arising from Westerners returning home after fighting in Syria was “more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”
Karl then pointed to “what’s looking like an all-out war” between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Sunni jihadist successes in “taking over vast territory in Iraq and in Syria,” Russian aggression in Ukraine, and concerns about Chinese handling of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“It doesn’t seem like a time to be touting tranquility on the international scene,” he told Earnest. “Do you think the president’s foreign policy bears any responsibility for any of this, or is there anything he can do about any of this?”
Earnest said President Obama’s thinking about foreign policy was guided by one core principle – “the national security interests of the United States of America.”
Syria chamical weapons deal touted
He raised as examples of actions that advanced American interests the negotiated removal of the Assad regime’s “declared” chemical weapons (CW) stockpile, and mediation in recent days between “two competing presidential candidates in Afghanistan, who were prepared to sort of take that process off the rails.”
Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts in brokering of an agreement calling for a full audit of votes in an Afghan election marred by allegations of rigging have drawn praise, although it will be weeks yet before the deal's success or otherwise will be seen.
The Syria chemical deal has brought fewer plaudits from outside the administration, however. The Assad regime slow-walked the process, missing multiple deadlines set by the international community in a clearly-defined program of action.
Questions also remain about the completeness of its declaration – there are suspicions it may have kept some CW back – and the regime is also accused of using chlorine gas in the fighting this year.
Moreover, one key part of the CW agreement that has not been achieved is the destruction of 12 Syrian CW production facilities, a process that was meant to have begun last December and been completed by March 15. Almost four months after that deadline the 12 facilities, five of them located underground, remain standing.
“Syria continues to drag its feet in complying with its obligation to destroy chemical weapons production facilities,” U.S. ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Robert Mikulak, told a meeting of the body’s executive council last week.
“The international community has questions that must be adequately answered by Syria regarding the declaration of its entire chemical weapons program,” he said.
Mikulak added that the U.S. “remains deeply concerned by the reports of systematic use of chlorine gas and other chemicals in opposition areas by Syrian government forces.”
Apart from questions about the agreement’s implementation, some critics also believe the deal overall left President Bashar Assad’s regime stronger, because it transformed him in the space of several days from a pariah who had been facing promised U.S. airstrikes for using chemical agents to kill more than 1,400 people, to a partner whose cooperation was needed to achieve the touted CW handover.