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While the New York Times has from day one strived to put a positive spin on the Obama presidency, in recent weeks it seems to be on a veritable rescue mission. Indeed, the manifest floundering of the administration in key policy areas, with its grim portents for the November midterm elections, has given rise to some concentrated and stunningly transparent partisan reportage.
By almost all accounts President Obama has come up short against Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the events in Ukraine. Mr. Putin and other Russian leaders have publicly mocked Mr. Obama’s imposition of sanctions against seven wealthy Russian Putin supporters. The apparent futility of the U.S. response was actually acknowledged in a Times story by Steven Lee Myers and Neil MacFarquar:
[I]f the aim of the sanctions is to put economic pressure on the wealthy allies crucial to President Vladimir V. Putin’s continued grip on power, there were few signs they would succeed, largely because those targeted were among the new generations of oligarchs who owe their fortunes and loyalties to Mr. Putin.And even though Russia has become more integrated in the global economy, those who were not targeted – other billionaires and millionaires who have prospered in the Russia that emerged under Mr. Putin’s rule – have not shown signs of breaking ranks, either, since the prospects of sanctions first arose.
There may not have been much else President Obama could have realistically done, but the headline writers at the Times obviously felt the need to massage a front-page story that took a less than giddy approach to Mr. Obama’s policymaking; how else to explain the story’s headline – “As Sanctions Start, Russia Feels a Sting”?
Two days later, also on the front page, the Times, in a story headlined “3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin,” endeavored to suggest that while Mr. Putin may have flouted President Obama’s warnings about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, other presidents have also been disrespected by Putin – namely Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
That is largely accurate, but it should be noted that it was a newly inaugurated Barack Obama who announced a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, scuttling President Bush’s announced plans to retaliate against Russia for invading Georgia, thereby sending an important message of weakness to Putin, which he apparently hasn’t forgotten.
On another front, Mr. Obama was roundly criticized for the recent interim agreement with Iran under which the Iranians made vague promises in return for a relaxation of the sanctions regime, including many restrictions on trade, which had been imposed in order to get Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear power.
Critics cautioned that investors would flock to Iran to do business and that international unity on the imposition of sanctions would erode over time and never be restored. In fact, investors did flock to Iran and the Iranians are now being less than cooperative in the continuing negotiations. So leave it to the Times to downplay any notion that the lifting of sanctions has been beneficial to Iran, which the paper did with a March 20 front-page story titled, “In Iran, Hopes Fade for Surge in the Economy.”
The day before, the Times reported on the progress of the Iran negotiations with the hopeful headline, “Second Round of Iran Nuclear Talks Ends With Optimism.” Yet here is part of what the actual story said:
The second round of talks between Iran and six world powers over Iran’s nuclear program ended…with all parties expressing satisfaction with the discussions…. Both Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief and the chief negotiator for the six powers, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, described the talks as “useful and substantive.”
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