Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Obama's Foreign Policy

James Oliphant at National Journal assesses the President's foreign policy achievements and finds them pretty thin.
[Sending 300 military advisors to Iraq] is a tacit acknowledgment that many of the assumptions that Obama and his foreign policy team made about the world have proven to be incorrect:
  • That without the leverage of U.S. military power in the country, Iraqi leaders would pursue political change that wouldn't leave Sunnis alienated and antagonized and that its security forces could counter internal threats.
  • That Afghanistan would be stable enough for the U.S. to end that war and depart with confidence the government can keep the nation on a stable path.
  • That the U.S. could pursue a "reset" with Vladimir Putin's Russia—but then watched his troops take Crimea and threaten the rest of Ukraine.
  • That the civil war in Syria could somehow be contained within its borders—and could reach a resolution without American intervention.
Oliphant might've add to this list the assumption that Iran could be talked into giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the assumption that the Palestinians are willing to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors if only the right administration were to initiate talks.

In short, none of the assumptions with which this administration arrived in Washington has been confirmed by experience, and the reason is simple. Much of the world respects just one thing, and it's not good intentions or smooth talk. The world respects what it fears and it fears the use of force. Mr. Obama's foreign policy has been a failure because none of our adversaries fears that he would actually use military force beyond the use of a few predator drone strikes off in the mountains somewhere.

Diplomacy can only work when the other side thinks there's something to lose by not cooperating. When there's no fear that there's something to lose then there's no incentive to make concessions. Mr. Obama inspires neither fear nor respect in the world's capitals.

He has, in fact, managed to create the worst of all possible frameworks in which to craft a foreign policy. Our enemies don't fear us and our friends don't trust us. Given that as the basis for our efforts in the world, it's not likely that the President will enjoy much success in his attempts to bend other nations to his will.

Oliphant's article suggests that it was Mr. Obama's hubris and disdain for Washington's foreign policy establishment that led to our current precarious predicament. No doubt he's right. Mr. Obama came to the presidency talking as if he truly believed that with his election the U.S. finally had a president who understood the way the world worked and who would be able to convince the lions to lay down with the lambs. All we had to do was show people that we were a kinder, gentler nation, to quote George Bush the elder, and everyone would come together and peace and love would reign. It would be a new Age of Aquarius.

It was delusional, and it was delusional to think that a man who had never accomplished anything other than get himself elected to office could make the world swoon the way he made teenage girls swoon when he gave speeches. Yet not only did he believe it, he managed to convince a sizable segment of the American electorate to believe it, too. Meanwhile, our friends wrung their hands and our enemies were jubilant. Alas.