At Large

Running Backward

Obama foreign policy in a nutshell.

By 8.27.13

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Something odd is going on with United States foreign and defense policy. To begin with it is obvious that the political leverage of the U.S. with Egypt is embarrassingly weak – perhaps even non-existent. The reigning commander of Egyptian military forces, General el-Sisi – after taking daily phone calls for weeks from the American defense secretary – ceased answering his phone. The president of the United States has to rely on two hawkish senior Republican senators, McCain and Graham, to reconnoiter the local situation in Cairo. Whatever happened to the U.S. Embassy with its extensive collection of political officers and contacts throughout Egypt?

Meanwhile CNN, mentioning an earlier Jake Tapper report, stated that there were approximately 35 CIA personnel (not indicating any division of staff or contract) working on a project of shipping weapons to Syrian rebels. These CIA employees apparently were at a separate location miles away from the four Americans who died during the terrorist raid on the official mission and the CIA annex. The CIA personnel who were not with the other four were exfiltrated in some manner after also coming under attack. Their exact casualties have not been reported, but some are known to have received treatment for their wounds at Walter Reed Hospital. All these survivors are now being held incommunicado. If this is all so secret, how were Jake Tapper and CNN able to dig up all this?

Not surprisingly, the answer is not complicated. The Obama Administration has prided itself on the ability to bewilder the press and public with cleverly devised exposition. In fact the president has led his communication troops in irrelevance and non-sequitur to cover what is really happening. The problem is that they attempt to manage so many purposeful leaks and mischaracterizations at the same time that they lose track of what has been leaked and characterized. Sorry, Valerie, but that’s the simple truth.

The entire concept of “leading from behind” was intended to give the impression of a willingness to grant allied nations the “honor” of foreign policy leadership while the U.S. would support their decisions and action. Of course this is nonsense. No one believed a word of this proclamation. It was a Madison Avenue-esque effort to place Washington in a position of apparent innocence in an environment that clearly indicated extensive U.S. involvement.

The key to the current Washington administration is its belief that it has the right – historic right – to a public positioning on all issues that presents the presidency in a favorable light, while actually proceeding covertly to accomplish contrary goals that are advantageous to Obama’s political ideology and ambition. In other words this is an administration of prestidigitators – and they’re good at it. The problem that the Obama government is now facing, however, is that while they have had moderate success on the domestic front with this game plan, the U.S. has come to be seen internationally as an untrustworthy partner.

Red lines in Syria, no mater how pedantically they are now being explained away and refined, are ignored. Rules of engagement on Egyptian aid are disregarded. NSA operations are authorized and encouraged even when contrary to stated Administration ambitions of transparency, etc. In politically apt, though excruciatingly simple terms, the United States’ foreign and defense policy has been run as if it had been constructed by a traditional big city pol (name withheld to protect the innocent) and his ward healers.

What is most amazing is the acceptance these tactics have received by such a large segment of the American public. Equally surprising has been that it has taken so long for America’s friends to see through the screen of illusion protecting Washington’s primary authority figure and his willing collaborators.

The rewriting of history regarding the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq has been the political underpinning of the left’s desire to have the U.S. withdraw generally from a leading role in world affairs. The Obama Administration has pursued policies of avoidance of reality as a political device. Thus the issuance of a demand against Syrian use of chemical warfare never was feared by Damascus. The White House was unwilling to recognize that radical Islam’s Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt had subverted the democratic process in an effort to turn that country into a Sunni version of Iran. 

The Russians early on recognized the artificiality of the new Washington team. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a very well understood commodity and therefore easily manipulated by her far more experienced counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. It was soon obvious to Moscow that Washington under the new administration had no real foreign policy. It wasn’t that U.S. foreign policy was contrary to Russia’s interests; there just wasn’t any policy.

Ranting and complaining over Iran’s nuclear potential was about the only consistency. The British and French overthrew Qaddafi and Washington provided backup. Essentially Washington withdrew itself from the game. It was as if the Obama Administration thought that it could exert American power just by existing. Soon others caught on. Even the late Hugo Chavez quickly figured it out. And of course, Beijing from the beginning discerned the emptiness of the “new” American policy for Asia. Washington just was going to avoid rocking the Pacific boat, while making sure the financial borrowing terms remained consistent. As both Beijing and Washington agreed that Pyongyang should be kept under control, that problem was solved before it even began.

A self-deceptive world of navel gazing has arrived with the Democrat leadership content with an international policy of active non-involvement and a segment of the Republican Party acting as if it really is possible to reinstate fortress America isolationism. It is as if the last seventy plus years had never happened. How odd -- and dangerously wrong-headed.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.