Obama again laments limits of presidential power
May 8th, 2014
11:05 AM ET
7 months ago

Obama again laments limits of presidential power

(CNN) – President Barack Obama once again lamented the limits of his power on the world stage, expressing regret in a speech Wednesday night that he was unable to stop recent atrocities against children in Nigeria and Syria.

"I have this remarkable title right now - President of the United States - and yet every day when I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria - when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids, having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment" Obama said in a speech at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation's gala in Los Angeles.

"I think, 'drop by drop by drop,' that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive; that we can tell a different story," the President added.

The President's comments appeared to be a continuation of an argument he laid out just days ago on the last leg of his trip to Asia when he defended his more measured, cautious approach to foreign policy. That strategy, Obama said, "avoids errors" and prevents the pitfalls of committing U.S. military forces to too many hot spots around the world.

"That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn't make for good argument on Sunday morning shows," Obama said in the Philippines. "But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world."

Critics of the President's remarks in Asia wondered whether Obama was too focused on playing "small ball."

"The world needs strong, effective American leadership as well; for all our mistakes like Iraq, the U.S. is the one nation that still has the power to keep world order," former presidential adviser and CNN political contributor David Gergen wrote in an op-ed on CNN.com following the president's trip to Asia. "But in the twinkle of an eye, we have gone from being indispensable to indisposed."

In his most recent remarks in Los Angeles, at a star-studded event founded by director Steven Spielberg after his film, "Schindler's List" won an Oscar for its depiction of the Holocaust, Obama took note of the modern-day horrors unfolding in Nigeria and Syria.

"We only need to look at today's headlines - the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, sectarian conflict, the tribal conflicts - to see that we have not yet extinguished man's darkest impulses," Obama said.


Filed under: California • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. tom l

    I thought he had a phone and a pen.

    May 8, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  2. troppo1

    if it had been a republican president they would have invaded the country by now and got those girls back.

    May 8, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  3. Anonymous

    So he wants to be a dictator. For all our mistakes like Iraq he says, all the while funding and arming radical Islamists
    The U.S. State Department released its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism on April 30th, stating:

    With a weak government possessing very few tools to exert control throughout its territory, Libya has become a terrorist safe haven and its transit routes are used by various terrorist groups, notably in the southwest and northeast.

    Terrorists continue to utilize ancient trade routes across these borders. All of Libya’s borders are porous and vulnerable to this activity ….

    Why has Libya become a safe haven for terrorists?

    The State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism – the first Country Report to list Libya as a terrorist safe haven – explains:

    In 2012, Libyan internal security suffered significant challenges and setbacks as it sought to reassert central authority following the fall of the Qadhafi regime ….

    And why did the Qadhafi regime fall?

    Oh, yeah … in 2011, the U.S. launched a war in Libya and “regime changed” Qadhafi. As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:

    We came, we saw, he died.

    May 8, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  4. Thomas

    Why is there so much conflict where there is oil ?

    And why dose that tall slim blond lady wearing black pants on TV tell me drilling for crude oil , clean coal and natural gas is good for the environment ?

    Asked by my 6 year old .

    May 8, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  5. rs

    Such rescue efforts come with great risks. They require a unanimity of opinion by our political leaders, and it requires the acceptance on the part of the citizenry (and indeed perhaps the rest of the watching world), that things may or may not go as planned.
    Thus, the war the GOP has declared on our duly elected President of these United States, and block, oppose and delay every single action of government, such a consensus for such an operation is simply not there.
    There are limits to our leaders problems: Constitutional; practical; and those imposed by the not-so-loyal opposition.

    May 8, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  6. Tommy G

    "I think, 'drop by drop by drop,' that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive; that we can tell a different story," the President added.
    -–

    What is being eroded drop by drop is our power, prestige and influence around the world thanks to this incompetent community organizer. This clown cannot think strategically and he thinks the USA using force is an evil thing. He thinks he can talk/lie his way out of anything.

    May 8, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  7. lee

    I didn't think This president knew there were limits to his power..

    May 8, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  8. freedom

    Good Lord! Why doesn't he just go to some country where he can be a dictator? NOT HERE!

    May 8, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  9. Bill from GA

    I'm glad to see the someone (our President) hasn't forgotten the hundreds of thousands of innocent children made refugee by the war in Syria.

    Democrats and Republicans in Congress joined together in a rare bipartisan effort to tell our President that he will not be authorized to get our country involved. I expect the republicans to vote against most anything Obama wants, but my own Representative, Hank Johnson, a Democrat, could not support the President.

    But after the vote, the gutless repubs had the audacity to complain that Obama was 'feckless', weak, inefficient. I suppose their comments were to be expected.

    May 8, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  10. Donna

    There is no strategic national interest at stake in Nigeria. There are no Americans taken hostage. Therefore this is not our problem. After nearly 6 years in office, Obama still doesn't understand what his job is.

    May 8, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Ted van Tol

    It's not to late Mr. President. You have Camp David.
    Invite Poetin for a week and you will reach a deal with him.
    Get the President of NIgeria and he will listen and act.
    Call Assad and talk to him and you will make Syria a safer place for childeren and adults.
    You forgot perhaps that this is you strenght. Communication! And dont ask your self what
    the Republicans will say. They made you a lame duck just because you where to kind for them and all
    your efforts to be a bipartisan President has faled by the obstruction of Bhoner and his frends.
    Divest from the shackles that limit you.
    It's not to late, you still have one and a half year to go. Use that time well!
    This world is still hoping and supports you. Stand up and the best is yet to come!

    God bless you.

    Ted van Tol The Netherlands

    May 8, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    "But in the twinkle of an eye, we have gone from being indispensable to indisposed."
    -------------------------------------–
    It's called Smart Power Gergen. This isn't cowboy diplomacy or looking into someone's soul. This is thought out strategy. This is chess, not checkers.

    May 8, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  13. Bill from GA

    Thomas – " why dose that tall slim blond lady wearing black pants on TV tell me drilling for crude oil , clean coal and natural gas is good for the environment ? "

    You can tell your son that that tall slim blond lady is saying that because they pay her gobs of money to say that. And as nice as she is to look at, half of what she says is lies.

    There is no financially viable 'clean coal', yet. But the industry is still trying. Facts are still coming in on the safety of fracking; recent reports link it to earthquakes. Maybe Europe is smart to put it off until we figure out the pros and cons. Especially if they can get us to take the risk and sell them the product.

    An that's life in the Good Ol USA.

    May 8, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  14. smith

    @Thomas-Having MSNBC on in your home will cause a child to ask rather odd questions. Besides tiny countries what country doesn`t have at least some oil?

    May 8, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. Uhhuh

    And why dose that tall slim blond lady wearing black pants on TV tell me drilling for crude oil , clean coal and natural gas is good for the environment ?
    ----------

    Thomas, tell your 6 year old son that the blond lady is Brooke Alexander, former actress and Fox news correspondent who is getting paid big bucks by the American Petroleum Institute to stand there and say all sorts of things that are not true.

    May 8, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Silence DoGood

    @freedom
    Good Lord! Why doesn't he just go to some country where he can be a dictator? NOT HERE!
    ----------------–
    The shallowness of the conservative rants here tell it all. Obama is lamenting as so many leaders do the limits of their power. To say this means he want to be a dictator is flying in the face of evidence and common sense. BTW, George Washington signed the first executive order with his pen, and I resent your implication that this makes him our first dictator, based on your simpleton reasoning or lack thereof.

    May 8, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. Silence DoGood

    @troppo1
    if it had been a republican president they would have invaded the country by now and got those girls back.
    ---------–
    If history is our teacher, and it is clear it is not yours, a republican president would have invaded the wrong country, lied about it, and been responsible for countless thousands of deaths.

    May 8, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  18. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I love the title of this article. It goes perfectly with what Faux and Faux lite are screaming from the rooftops. Obama laments limits of power. Translation.... Obama is mad that he can't dictate to the world.

    FIFY Foxlite.

    May 8, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Lizzie

    Donna, what is OUR presidents job. Let's just go send troops to Nigeria and then on to the South Sudan, where children and women are raped and killed if the resist, where pregnant women are mutulated with wooden boards, according to amnesty international.
    No one has a clue where those girls are, no one in the country has seen a caravan with children, or do you think the US can find them, they can't even find a Boeing triple 7.

    May 8, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  20. Let the People and our Diversity Be

    The Executive Branch and its Agencies 'must be' limited to that of being 'Impartial' and 'Inclusive' Executors of our Laws.

    Congress must strip the Executive Branch of the Slates that it has given it to write the Doctrine of those who are in power.

    The Executive Branch must never have power to issue Rules, Regulations, Executive Orders, Fiat/Fatwa, ... to Pander, to be Punitive, or to Criminalize their Opposition.

    May 8, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  21. barryinlasvegas

    It would be nice if he was as concerned about the high black unemployment, poor quality of education and all of the gang killings in his home town of Chicago as he claims to be about these foreign children.

    May 8, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  22. Gunderson

    So where do I begin?
    When George Bush took action, after 911 some wanted to rake him over the coals and put him in jail for life. Some call him a war criminal. So if Barrack Obama goes in and cleans out this rat's nest will he also be branded a war criminal? There is something called leadership of what a president runs to do. Refusing to work with the opposition requires leadership. Complaining you don't have the power is pretty phony. It never stopped you when you shoved Obama Care down our throats. You ran for the job, now do it.

    May 8, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  23. Thomas

    @Donna
    There is no strategic national interest at stake in Nigeria. There are no Americans taken hostage. Therefore this is not our problem. After nearly 6 years in office, Obama still doesn't understand what his job is.

    ======

    Proof again your a guy posting as a woman .

    No Mother would feel such lack of empathy for those 200 kidnapped girls.

    Air support , satellite and drone intel could find the Boko Brothers and treat them to a BBQ . What's more important is dealing with the Asian bankers that launder there funding .

    May 8, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. Fair is Fair

    Ted van Tol

    It's not to late Mr. President. You have Camp David.
    Invite Poetin for a week and you will reach a deal with him.
    Get the President of NIgeria and he will listen and act.
    Call Assad and talk to him and you will make Syria a safer place for childeren and adults.
    You forgot perhaps that this is you strenght. Communication! And dont ask your self what
    the Republicans will say. They made you a lame duck just because you where to kind for them and all
    your efforts to be a bipartisan President has faled by the obstruction of Bhoner and his frends.
    Divest from the shackles that limit you.
    It's not to late, you still have one and a half year to go. Use that time well!
    This world is still hoping and supports you. Stand up and the best is yet to come!

    God bless you.

    Ted van Tol The Netherlands
    ---------
    Someone tell the cheerleader she has a fraternal twin in Holland.

    May 8, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Just so you know barry in vegas. He is concerned about all of those things however those problems existed prior to this POTUS ever taking office and they will continue until people in this country give blacks the same equal opportunities that everyone else has. Is it the POTUS' fault that many inner city kids have to share textbooks? Is it his fault that blacks, whether educated or not, get the lowest paying jobs and never get promotions? No, none of that is his fault. We blacks were never supposed to receive any rights in this country and many are still trying to accomplish that. Yes black unemployment is up. People get frustrated with not being able to even get by let alone ahead. But we damn sure don't blame the POTUS when the GOP doesn't even support a minimum wage increase.

    May 8, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
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