Was Obama's foreign policy brilliant or a disaster?
Weighing the successes and failures of a president's foreign policy is standard operating procedure in the world of punditry. Experts have been thus weighing in on Barack Obama's foreign policy.
The problem with this game of political tennis is that, except for the rarest exceptions, the experts are actually team players. They are invested in their team's success and often paid by their team, directly or indirectly. Must we rely on them, or can we decide for ourselves? Do we have no other choice than to be a fan of one side or the other? And if not, on what can we rely to make judgments of this kind?
Our common sense, of course.
Angelo Codevilla is one of those rare exceptions, a real expert who combines scholarship, experience, and common sense to tell it like it is. When Professor Codevilla lays it down, it stays down. He wrote this not long after 9/11:
Common sense does not mistake the difference between victory and defeat[.] ... The losers have to change their ways, the winners feel more secure than ever in theirs.
Hitching a ride on Professor Codevilla's insight, it is also true that common sense does not mistake the difference between a victorious foreign policy and a defeatist one.
Let's examine the evidence together.
The Iran "deal," we are often told, was the crowning achievement of Obama's foreign policy. Professor Bruce Thornton is another real expert who tells it like it is. Here he is on the Iran deal: "an anti-Semitic, genocidal, theocratic regime, the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism and up to its elbows in American blood, was given in cash and sanctions-relief a multi-billion-dollar reprieve from accelerating economic collapse, and a clear road for achieving its aims of acquiring nuclear weapons deliverable by long-range missiles."
That does not seem to be a good deal for America, does it?
What could possibly explain Obama making such an astonishing gift to the mullahs who rule Iran? Context can help us with questions of this kind. Let's consider what else Obama did in the Middle East. Here is Professor Thornton again:
The abandonment of Iraq created a vacuum which was filled by Iraq, Russia, and ISIS, followed up by the gruesome civil war in Syria and the ongoing slaughter and refugee crisis continuing today. The misguided "multinational" NATO adventure in Libya ... led to the collapse of political order, the proliferation of jihadi outfits, and the flooding of the region with weapons from Gaddafi's arsenals, which in turn set the stage for the murder of four Americans in Benghazi.
But wait, there's more. For one additional example, there was Obama's support of the short-lived takeover of Egypt by Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now we can ask what these policies have in common. They all advanced the Islamist cause.
So, returning to our original question, was Obama's foreign policy brilliant or a disaster? What says your common sense? Mine says it was both; it was brilliant, and it was a disaster. It was brilliant if and only if Obama's intent was to advance the Islamist cause. It was a disaster for America's interests. Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East was pro-Islamist and, consequently, opposed to America's interests.
In the instance of Obama's foreign policy, the question "brilliant or a disaster?" is what the philosophers call a category error. That means we are not making use of the right category to make our enquiry. "Brilliant or a disaster?" belongs to the foreign policy of normal American presidents who try to advance America's interests with varying degrees of success and failure.
As I wrote above, weighing the successes and failures of a president's foreign policy is standard operating procedure in the world of punditry. But sticking to standard operating procedure is nonsensical when examining Obama's foreign policy. Obama sought to advance the interests of the Islamists instead of America, and so he did not fail.
Robert Curry is the author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea from Encounter Books. You can preview the book here.