President Obama’s foreign policy has always been an indecipherable concatenation of unrestrained urges. He’s shunned our closest allies, Britain and Israel, embraced our adversaries and enemies such as Russia, Iran, and China, and acted out of fits of pique when challenged at home or abroad.
When North Korea tests a missile or a nuclear weapon, when Russia begins reconquering former Soviet states, and when Russia and Iran combine to ensure the survival of Syria’s terrorist regime, there’s no effort to brace our allies to strengthen them. It’s only when we have no national security interest in acting will Obama join, as he did when he, with France and Britain, made an ad hoc NATO-like coalition to remove a dictator, using American air power to take out Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Allies and enemies alike have been wondering what Obama’s game is. He gave us a hint in 2015 when riding in a car with Jerry Seinfeld. Obama, playing to Seinfeld’s theme, said, “I always wanted to be in a show about nothing and here I am.” But that quip, like Obama’s foreign policy, wasn’t about nothing: it was all about him just as Seinfeld’s show wasn’t about nothing, but about a bunch of self-obsessed young people.
Obama’s foreign policy team — Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice — are, like him, without foundation in foreign affairs or military matters but they don’t care. The policies they push are Obama’s and reflect their own egos, not America’s interests.
Consider Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for communications strategy. In 2001, he was an aspiring novelist without training or experience in anything relevant to foreign policy or national security. Now, according to a paean to him in the New York Times Magazine, at age 38 Rhodes is “…the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from [Obama] himself.”
Rhodes, as reported by the Times, gleefully admits lying to the press in order to create a misleading narrative about Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran. He revels in his own power to shape world events. Several of his colleagues in the White House refer to him as the “Holden Caulfield” of the administration as if that were high praise.
For those who didn’t read Catcher in the Rye in high school, Holden Caulfield was a fictional character entirely absorbed in himself.
In short, Rhodes is a younger version of Obama with a little John Kerry tossed in to ensure the last measure of indecisiveness. His influence over Obama — exaggerated by the Times or not — is explainable by the fact that both of them apparently believe that saying something makes it so. Unfortunately for them, and for America and its allies, the world doesn’t work that way. But that doesn’t dissuade Rhodes or Obama. Or Clinton for that matter.
Rhodes has been busy spinning Obama’s foreign policy lies. We must remember that he was at the center of the Benghazi talking points controversy. What the CIA wrote was re-written by Rhodes, Clinton, and others before Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows five days later to spin the yarn about protests, an obscure anti-Muslim movie trailer, and to deny the attack had been carefully planned by terrorists.
It was Rhodes who wrote the talking points that Rice followed that Sunday. Among them was one that insisted that there was no broader policy failure in Obama’s Libya military action. Remember, too, that then-defense secretary Robert Gates said repeatedly that we had no national security interest in toppling Qaddafi.
Enough about Rhodes. He’s merely an enabler of Obama’s addiction to his solipsistic foreign policy.
That policy has been turned into everything from the Iran nuclear weapons deal, which is an unqualified disaster, to military rules of engagement that left American sailors in Iranian custody. These rules have left our ships in the Baltic without air cover, and our reconnaissance aircraft there vulnerable to Russian interception and Russian jet fighters performing reckless aerobatic stunts barrel-rolling around them.
There’s no chance whatever that the Obama policies will be changed or even interrupted before his term as president ends. Before that, more provocations will come and Obama will fail to respond to them.
The latest threat was issued last week by the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Gen. Hossein Salami. (The IRGC is the military arm of the ayatollahs that takes orders directly from them.) Last week, Salami threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. and its allies threaten Iran.
The Strait of Hormuz is the narrow corridor through which about one-third of the world’s oil supply is shipped.
The Iranians could close the Strait, at least for a time. Though the Strait is about twenty miles wide, the shipping channel that the heavy, deep-draft oil tankers have to use is only about two miles wide.
If Iran wanted to, it could block the Strait’s deep channel with mines. It is in easy range of Iranian attack aircraft and naval assets (including destroyer-size ships) that could enforce such a blockage. What we could do is probably not what we would do in the face of that provocation.
Bahrain, a tiny country on the Persian Gulf, is home to the Fifth Fleet and the Navy’s Central Command Headquarters. To state the obvious, Iran would be truly stupid to start a shooting war with us. They’d be careful to calibrate their action to avoid one but they can bet on our weakness. The Gulf oil nations remain shocked and alienated by Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Which means Iran could block the Strait for an unknown amount of time until we — or NATO, or we with our pseudo-allies such as the Saudis — decided to take action to clear the Strait. That could take days, weeks, or months, giving the Iranians a huge propaganda victory and enabling them to extract concessions at the right moment. The real question is how Obama — or Clinton or Trump — would respond.
Obama, Kerry, and Clinton would spend endless energy trying to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s action. They’d submit the problem — and control over our actions — to the UN. Meanwhile, the price of oil would skyrocket, restoring the shaky Russian economy to relative stability and wealth in a very short time. China, which has increased its oil imports from Africa almost fifty percent in a year, would join with Russia in blocking any UN action against Iran.
Donald Trump would probably tell the NATO nations that it’s their problem and not ours. At some point, he might order the Fifth Fleet to reopen the Strait, but it’s entirely unclear whether he understands that, if Iran closed the Strait, we would have a national security interest in reopening it.
The Saudis, Bahrainis, and all the other Persian Gulf oil nations rely on us to deter and defend them against the threat of Iran. This is just one example of how our “wishing makes it so” foreign policy, coupled with the possibility of our 45th president adopting a policy muddled by isolationism, could literally end our diminishing influence in the Middle East.
We can’t afford Obama’s eight-year amateur hour to continue if we are to remain a global power. At this point, that’s a very big “if.”