Ruminations, July 29, 2012
Obama’s foreign policy
In the past, we have been critical of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy proposals and have given a virtual pass to Barack Obama’s policy.
The rationale for giving Obama a pass is not so much that his foreign policy has been successful or exemplary but it is to the point more that he is the president; as such, he is briefed by his National Security Council on at least a weekly basis, is in touch, when necessary, with ambassadors and foreign heads of state. Many of Obama’s actions may be covert and many are announced with an eye to how they will play out on the world stage including the impact that they have on foreign leaders.
A critique of a President’s foreign policy is probably fair only after some time has elapsed. As such, the time has come to take look at Obama’s foreign policy over the last three years and a superficial analysis shows severe flaws. The analysis is superficial because we don’t know the full back-story behind Obama’s policies.
To begin with, presidents are political actors as well as leaders in international statesmanship. Some of their statements and actions can be rightly interpreted as made for domestic political consumption. During the 1960 campaign, John Kennedy was critical of Eisenhower’s handing of foreign policy, but during the 1962 missile crisis, Kennedy’s tapes show that Kennedy was frequently consulting with Eisenhower because of Ike’s experience on the world stage and in dealing with foreign leaders. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy were aware that Kennedy’s critiques were political and treated them as such.
Obama, for the most part, seems to have taken much of his criticism of his predecessor seriously – to the point that he seems to have implemented a policy of doing the opposite just because it was the opposite. This in itself is a problem because in order for other nations to react with consistency they require a consistent policy from the United States.
To wit: the United States under the Bush Administration established the principle of defending the United States, Europe and Israel with a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic. Despite pressure and threats from Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic backed the U.S. defense strategy. Obama, in a much publicized attempt to reset relations with Russia, dumped the agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic. This might have been a case of realpolitik whereby Obama traded amicable relations with Poland and the Czech Republic for those with Russia, but the result has been a political disaster. Russia, instead of being more accommodating to U.S. interests has if anything become more hostile. And the abrupt change has caused Eastern Europe (and perhaps other observing nations) to become more distrustful of the United States. It appears that the only reason for the change is to be un-Bush.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama criticized Bush for failing to negotiate with Iran. So Obama has opened the doors to negotiation with Iran. The result of that has been nil. Indeed, today Iran, notwithstanding sanctions, is in a stronger position than it was during the Bush years – in part due to support from Russia.
In Afghanistan, Obama’s “good war,” ignoring the facts on the ground, Obama intends to prove that he is the un-Bush by removing troops before the fall’s elections while commanders stress that troop levels should remain at or near current levels during the “fighting season” – which runs until winter begins. But Bush was the one who inserted U.S. troops in Afghanistan and by removing them, regardless of the wisdom of the move, Obama distances himself from Bush.
In Iraq, Obama has been unable to maintain a military presence to help preserve the fledgling democracy. If Iraq survives, it might lead some to conclude that the attack on Saddam Hussein’s government was worth the effort and Bush was right. However, if Iraq fails, then that will prove Obama right and Bush wrong.
There is no question that relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been chilly (Obama reportedly said of Netanyahu to French president Sarkozy, “”You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.”) Part of the mistrust has to do with Obama’s demand that Israel freeze West Bank settlements, ignoring an understanding between Israel and the Bush administration that construction in existing Jewish settlements could continue. Where Obama is concerned, consistency in foreign policy is not important to relations with allies.
One of the United States’ stalwart allies in Iraq was British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Aside from the logistical support Britain supplied, Blair was an eloquent spokesman and one-half of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Great Britain that had existed since Roosevelt and Churchill. Obama has added to the increasing separation through the kerfuffle over the Churchill bust that Obama returned to the British embassy and the slight in gift exchanges. If Bush did it, Obama feels that it can’t be good. No more special relationship.
Distancing oneself from an unpopular president can be good politics. It was a strategy even Republican John McCain employed in the 2008 election. But it is bad policy to base your country’s priorities and strategies on a “if he did it, it must be bad” philosophy. And that seems to be Obama’s basic approach.
Quote without comment
Wall Street Journal editorial, “A Tale of Two Worlds,” July 26, 2012: “With little to show for its main foreign policy initiatives, the Obama campaign will play to war fatigue. The public may be tired of conflict, but Americans still expect a president to lead the world and shape it. The Obama policy of disengagement abroad is merely storing up trouble that a President Romney would have to address immediately.”