How screwed up is Obama's foreign policy?
David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy, has written an incisive article on America's foreign policy under Obama. It's a "big picture" analysis of what's happening in the Middle East and beyond, with brutally frank observerations about how Obama's policies have only made a bad situation worse.
I encourage you to read all of it, but here are some excerpts:
The situation in the region is unprecedented. For the first time since the World Wars, virtually every country from Libya to Afghanistan is involved in a military conflict. (Oman seems to be the exception.) The degree of chaos, uncertainty, and complexity among the twisted and often contradictory alliances and enmities is mind-boggling. America and its allies are fighting alongside Iran to combat the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria but in Yemen, the United States and many of those same regional partners are collaborating to push back Iranian-backed Houthi forces. Israel and Saudi Arabia are closely aligned in their concerns about Iran while historical divisions between the two remain great. Iran supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria; the United States and Western allies deplore his policies but tolerate his presence while some of the rebel forces we are supporting in the fight against the Islamic State in that country seek his (long overdue) removal. The United States wants the states of the region to stand up for their own interests — just not in Libya or when they don’t get America’s permission first.
The technical foreign-policy term for this is giant cluster-f**k. (In the military’s shorthand, using its own phonetic alphabet, the expression is charlie foxtrot.) It is no wonder that the response of so many Americans is to want to back away from the region as quickly as possible. They argue that its problems are beyond our control, that the animosities fueling the fires of the current Middle East hellscape are ancient, and that many of the festering conflicts have little relevance to the daily lives of the American people.
Rothkopf points out that many of these crises predate the Obama administration (indeed, some are ancient in origin), but that we have pursued policies that have exacerbated the problems:
So even though the Obama administration is clearly not responsible for most of the root and many of the exacerbating causes of the current melee in the Middle East, it is also true that it does not have the luxury of walking away from this upheaval/these conflicts, or the room to employ halfway measures, reactive or largely improvised initiatives that exist without benefit of any broader strategy. And unfortunately for America, for our allies, for the region, and for the world, those are the three primary approaches that have been employed by this White House.
There is much irony in Obama's approach the Middle East, as we eschew traditional allies and empower their enemy, Iran:
Of course, the president’s fiasco of indecision, reversed decisions, and ignoring the recommendations of his team regarding addressing the growing unrest in Syria contributed to this.
Sluggish and confused reactions to the Arab Spring were compounded by a major mishandling and dangerous weakening of the vital relationship the United States had with Egypt. Obama’s ambivalence about taking action and then doing what was necessary to produce successful outcomes in Libya was yet another such mismanaged effort that created more problems than it solved. It is an irony of the Obama years that although he raised hopes of a new, better era in regional relations with a speech he gave in the heart of the Arab world in Cairo, that ultimately his only real efforts to change relations “for the better” in the region were not with Arabs at all but with Persians.
Finally, Rothkopf identifies the "biggest culprit" as a cause of our foreign policy woes:
Bad choices, mismanagement, and faulty diplomacy are not the primary causes of America’s problems of its own making in the region. The biggest culprit is strategic incoherence. We don’t seem to have a clear view of our interests or a vision for the future of the region fostered in collaboration with our allies there and elsewhere. “Leave it to the folks on the ground” is no more a U.S. foreign-policy strategy than is “don’t do stupid shit.” It is a modality at best and in fact, it is really an abrogation of responsibility when so many of these relationships do have trade, investment, political, military, and other elements that give the United States leverage that it could and should use to advance its interests. Our relations with other major powers likewise should provide us with such tools if we were to do the diplomatic heavy lifting to produce coordinated efforts. (And arguing that’s what we are doing in Iran is not compelling when we are not doing it with regard to the region’s many other problems or when we have done it to ill-effect in places like Libya or Syria.)
It doesn't get more damning than to refer to the foreign policy of an American president as strategically incoherent. I suppose it's less harsh than saying Obama doesn't know what he's doing, but the effect is the same. His Iran diplomacy has blown up our relations with the Gulf Arab states; his myopia has blown up our vital alliance with Egypt; his indecision and incompetence has made the situations in Syria and Libya worse; and his personal animosity toward the Israeli prime minister has brought U.S.-Israeli relations to their lowest level in history.
Our foreign policy is in the very best of hands.