Now that we are entering the last chapter of President Obama’s foreign policy tale, how might one judge his tenure. Writing in the pages of Foreign Affairs Gideon Rose argues that due to the restrained and clever leadership provided by the president, “the United States today [20150 may be richer, stronger, and safer than it has ever been; if not, it is certainly close to it… And it is at the center of an ever-expanding liberal order that has outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted every rival for three-quarters of a century.”
While Rose is a gifted editor and writer, I find his conclusions mind-boggling. Admirers of President Obama’s foreign policy often refer to the end of U.S participation in the Iraq and Afghan Wars, but no one could argue that peace and stability reign. Nor can one project a single nation anywhere in the Middle East and beyond whose fortunes improved during the Obama years. Needless to say, Mr. Rose will claim I am in the gloom and doom choir, but I think it is important to note that gloom is sometimes an accurate barometer of global conditions. Let me be somewhat more precise in my assessment.
The unprecedented migration of hundreds of thousands of North Africans into Europe and beyond is a reflection of the naïve belief that stability in Iraq could be achieved without U.S military assistance. So profound is this population transfer that some have predicted it is a scenario akin to the fall of the Roman Empire and others have argued it will undermine the already economically fragile nations of Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and even France. By any reasonable standard, this is a migration that could transform Europe into what Bat Yor has called “Eurabia.” It is a foreign policy blunder that has given ISIS a metaphorical green light to engage in murder and rape as tactics for its imperial ambitions.
Second, the president through his representatives at the P5+1 negotiations in Vienna and Geneva has initiated a rapprochement with Iran that will allow it to develop enough fissile material to build nuclear weapons in eight to ten years. That is if “cheating” does not occur earlier. Moreover, despite administration claims about verification, it is clear, based on “side deals” between Iran and the IAEA, that Iranians are responsible for monitoring their own enrichment programs.
As a consequence, one likely outcome of this negotiation and deal is an uneasiness among Sunni states that is likely to result in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. As Saudi leaders have noted, what is good for Iran should be good for us. Alas, the lid of Pandora’s jar is open and ominous clouds for the future have emerged.
Third, sensing a withdrawal of American military force in the Pacific, the Chinese have established unilaterally an air perimeter zone in the South China Sea that incorporates a host of contested islands. Moreover, the Chinese have built air strips on reefs that are capable of accommodating attack jets. In addition, a blue water Chinese navy has been operating close to Alaskan territory with impunity.
By any stretch of the imagination, these are foreboding developments that have disrupted global equilibrium. It is hard to imagine the suggestion that we have “outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted every rival” when the conditions outlined indicate just the opposite.
President Obama has been an abject failure in foreign policy. He has been outwitted and outplayed by Iran, Russia, China, and ISIS among others. The once heralded American military behemoth has lost its luster. Challenges that were once inconceivable, occur routinely with an Obama team that seems weak and irresolute. The U.S. still has strength, leverage, and extraordinary assets, but the government does not have the will to act when action is necessary.
Eliot Cohen and John Gooch in Military Misfortunes argued that “military failures can be attributed to three causes: failure to learn, failure to adapt and failure to anticipate.”
In my judgment, President Obama failed to learn from history. Our military withdrawals only hastened the action of enemies. Power cannot tolerate a vacuum, a fundamental lesson of international affairs.
Once Russia seized on the opportunity to annex the Crimea and insert itself into the Middle East as a defender of Assad in Syria and an arms supplier to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it was time for the U.S. to adapt to evolving conditions. But this government could not or would not reset the “reset.”
And last, the Obama administration failed to anticipate next steps. Surely, someone in authority should realize that the deal with Iran would have profound implications for military adjustment in rival Sunni states. Yet that person didn’t speak out or was ignored as anticipation of obvious effects was all but ignored.
It might be recalled that Prometheus stole the secret of fire from Olympus so that man might be enlightened. But the benefits of fire, at least for mankind, proved to be questionable. Nowhere is this more clear than in the arrival of Pandora, who was sent by Zeus — supposedly as a gift, but in fact as the price for man’s acquisition of the stolen fire. In an obvious nod to the original deception by Prometheus, the gods disguise Pandora beneath an intoxicating layer of beauty and charm. In a quintessential act of curiosity Pandora’s jar is opened and with it is released illness, sorrow, toil, and countless evils into the world. Fortunately the jar was closed to prevent hope from escaping. Hope is still here as the potential harbinger of change, but countless evils are afflicting the globe, many precipitated by President Obama’s decisions.
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