The Wall Street Journal drew attention Friday to the striking difference between statements by President Barack Obama and UN Ambassador Samantha Power on the downed Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in eastern Ukraine. While Obama stopped somewhat short of blaming Russia and Russian separatists, Power, in a speech to the UN Security Council blamed the separatists and hinted strongly at suspicions of a direct Russian role.
It was not the first time that the State Department, notoriously reluctant to be on the right side of any issue, has been out in front on the Ukraine-Russia crisis. Earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Maidan square to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and even Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland lost patience with passive Europeans: “F— the EU,” she was caught saying.
At the time, I speculated that the lethargic State bureaucracy had finally lost patience with the hapless White House, and finally gotten up off its Foggy Bottom. “They know that President Obama is disengaged from foreign affairs,” I wrote. “Though many State Department bureaucrats lean left, and preferred Obama to the Republican alternatives, they know–after Benghazi–that the White House does not have their backs.”
The State Department still appears to be doing things the way it sees fit. That hasn’t always worked out so well–last week, for example, spokesperson Jen Psaki alarmed journalists when she virtually ignored the Ukraine crisis and could not say whether any Americans were on the Malaysia flight. But Psaki is a political hack from the Obama campaign. The career bureaucrats seem to be pushing–hard, if quietly–against the administration.