I have seen the allegation bandied about the internet that somehow our website is hawkish and that some of our writers (myself included) are neoconservatives. Interestingly at least speaking for myself I take a far more restrained view of the use of the US military than the current Administration has. President Obama has overextended the US military intervening or attempting intervention in several hot spots where the United States has virtually no national security interest at stake. Let us first start with the premise that the threat of Islamic terrorism is overblown as I think most TFS readers will agree. Then understand this President has made his decisions based on reaction to potential “threats” due to terrorism, while taking his eye off the real enemies of this country, Russia and China.
The President’s foreign policy is highly unpopular right now in the nation. This President is the first in the post World War II era that lacks a clear direction or doctrine for decision making. Haphazardness, reaction and randomness seem to characterize this administration’s foreign policy decisions. In many cases the American media which is in a large way insular and isolated have pushed the President to make the wrong decisions. For this the President deserves to be cut some slack. The US based media’s lack of real understand of international relations causes so many unintended problems.
Let us review some of the hot spots where the US should not have gotten involved under President Obama.
The French have a very neo-colonial view of Africa that has developed under their last two Presidents. The Libya situation represented nothing but a hassle for the United States. Yet in 2011, President Obama opted to have the United States participate in a NATO military effort to help the Libyan rebels oust Muammar al-Gaddafi. Gaddafi had long seized to be a problem for the US or the west. His heyday was the 1980s when he supplied terrorists across the globe with arms and training, including the IRA. The Pan Am bombing in Lockerbie Scotland was the apex of his terrorist days, but his influence wanted in the 1990s and by the 2000s was more or less irrelevant. Yet President Obama got involved in a civil war in Libya without Congressional Approval. The operation lasted more than 60 days meaning the War Powers Act was violated and yet the Republicans who run the House of Representatives did nothing about this. Libya has become LESS SAFE for Americans since Gaddafi’s ouster as evidenced by the Benghazi bombing in September 2012.
The President has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of the state of Pakistan with drone strikes and the use of some military personnel. In the 2008 campaign, John McCain took a posture that was to the left of President Obama on the situation in Pakistan which is more or less a failed state. The anti-war crowd that backed Obama did not care about these positions as they were not widely reported even though they did come up in a debate. I felt they were dangerous at the time and continue to believe that.
Pakistan’s lack of stability has much to do with United States interference and the perception that the central government has become since 2001 a US puppet.
The United States should have been out of Afghanistan in 2002 after the Karzai Government was put in place. Instead 12 years and thousands of lives later we are finally withdrawing. The war was winding down under President Bush, but President Obama seeking to differentiate a “good war” from a “bad war,” doubled down in a place where the British nor the Russians could ever be successful. The term “great game” originated from Afghanistan and the “great game” was always a western failure. I will give the President credit that after five years he finally told Karzai off. But this was after the loss of lots American lives and an enormous cost to our budget and national prestige.
President Obama unwisely used the term “red-line” to precipitate the possibility of military action against the Syrian regime. What the President and the neoconservatives who were backing military action seem to forget is that the Ba’athist regime of Bashar Assad is secular and that Christians are likely to be persecuted or exterminated under any new government that comes to power. The rebels have from the beginning largely been Sunni nationalist fighters, irrespective of the portrayal now being given in the US press. The only real justification for action in Syria would be to curb Russian power in the region. But jumping into a quagmire with no real good or bad sides never made sense. Yet the President went to the brink pushing military action.
The use of US troops in Iraq to prop up a corrupt and somewhat racist government under Nouri al-Maliki is shocking. President Obama sent troops under media and political pressure. The easiest solution would be to encourage the Kurds who have been fleeced by this Federal System in Iraq that was implemented under US military occupation in 2005 to separate and then let the rest of the country do as it wishes. Back the Kurds with loans and some US military assistance. Build Erbil up into a national capital city. Turkey may not like it but they have not been cooperative of late in many respects, fueling the flames of the Syrian Civil War and creating dangerous alliances with Sunni states. If ISIS/ISIL/IS topple the Maliki Government, so be it. Then work diplomatically with whomever comes out on top.
In the meantime Britain has resumed diplomatic relations with Iran indicating this President cannot get the United States’ cloest ally to go along with the hard-line US led effort to isolate the Shiite nation. I personally support the British action as I feel positive engagement with Iran will help ween Tehran off its shotgun alliance with Russia that was formed because of US hostility. Iran can play a positive role in the region and was beginning to prior to the decision of the Bush Administration to brandish it part of a phony “Axis of Evil.” This Administration has deepened sanctions against Iran without having an endgame in mind. My view has always been you either go to war with Iran or you negotiate with them. Sanctions are simply a stalling tactic and a way for unreconstructed hawks to justify eventual military action.
The Rest of the World
While I believe strongly this President has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to challenging the emerging Sino-Russo alliance which threatens our political and economic security, the Middle East and Central Asia are a mess that does not require constant military action by the US. The President has been passive in countering the Chinese threat to American allies such as Japan and the commercial threats posed by China to the United States. The President has also been played time and again by Russian elected dictator Vladimir Putin.
The United States cannot militarily deal with Russia or China right now. We cannot protect Japan or Ukraine either through soft or hard power. Why? We are bogged down in wars of choice in the Middle East that do nothing to serve our national interests. We have extended ourselves both militarily and diplomatically on other matters of lesser importance. While it is true that this President inherited much of this mess, he has certainly not made things better. With regards to the other threats globally that the US faces, I would argue the President’s idealism has guided him to where he has taken a very passive approach towards Russia and China. In the long-term this could prove to be disastrous.
The greater game for the United States is our projection of power versus that of China and Russia. Right now, we have the look of an arrogant, war-mongering state while Russia and China have quietly cultivated anti-American dissent globally. The critical nature of matters now is that we must make foreign policy decisions based on how it impacts our security and how it fits into the crowing Cold War with the Russians and the Chinese. Sending military personnel to Iraq fits none of these criteria for example.
President Obama deserves low marks on foreign policy. He’s consistently made the wrong choices and been overwhelmed by events. Simply saying this does not make me a conservative as in many cases I urge restraint on the part of the United States, not the constant use of military power for no long-term purposes.