Many of those in the US and across the world who resented America acting as the world’s policeman are already seeing the consequences of a world that has no policeman at all. President Obama’s policy of US retreat from engagement with the world’s rogues has been a boon for those rogues, and has not resulted in any domestic dividends either.
The foreign policy debacles are obvious and ongoing. Russia is eating Obama’s lunch and gradually reconstructing the Soviet empire. As Ukraine is whittled down in size, the Baltic States (all hosting substantial “Russian” populations) fear they will be next, followed by the Eastern European states that will seek shelter under a Russian sphere of influence in order to deter a clandestine invasion. (A new phenomenon that challenges the willfully blind: soldiers who wear masks so we don’t really “know” –wink, wink – from which country they come. That ensures the passivity of the countries that have an interest in freedom but a stronger interest in maintaining cordial business relations with the Russians.)
Iraq – as was predicted and predictable – has descended into chaos, with parts of the country already dominated by the Iranians and other parts functioning as al Qaeda strongholds. American influence is nil and all so that Obama could say he ended Bush’s war. Imagine, for a moment, that Harry Truman had sued for peace with Germany and Japan after assuming office, claiming that he did not want to fight FDR’s wars, because both countries posed no further threat to the United States. Continuity in diplomacy makes for greater coherence in international relations and more stability among allies. That continuity has been shattered, and today, few allies, if any, rely on the US in any meaningful way.
The question posed this week in the Economist – “What would America fight for?” – is a good one. One would assume an attack on the homeland would generate some response, but even that is not entirely clear given the present difficulty in determining with any certainty the provenance of an attack.
Iran openly mocks the US diplomatic efforts and has no intention of halting its march to a nuclear weapon. Negotiations per se are considered a worthy diplomatic accomplishment even if America’s strategic positions are degraded as a result. Talk is great if it prevents war; these talks will prevent war in the short term, as the enemy’s intention is to achieve their objectives without war and through those endless talks.
Ditto for Iran’s ally Syria. That rogue state is openly contemptuous of Obama’s threats and red lines. By many accounts, it has recently used chemical weapons against its citizens – again – but the Obama administration’s tactic is to turn its head, as if to say, if we don’t acknowledge it, then it hasn’t happened. That is not a policy as much as it is an incentive to evildoers, who, strange it sounds, occasionally lie about their intentions as well. Unquestionably Obama’s unctuous backtracking, and his enlistment of Russia to bail him out of that self-created predicament, emboldened Putin to execute his plan, now armed with proof that Obama is a lightweight.
Israel has wisely rejected America’s entreaties to surrender its land and make more concessions to its enemies. One can only pray that it will retain its backbone, national pride and patrimony. More interestingly, Israel has in the last few years re-oriented (literally) its trade policy, and within less than five years Asia (primarily China and India) will surpass North America as Israel’s leading trade partner. And so it goes across the globe.
Is there a place in the world where America today is more feared, respected or admired than, say, six years ago? I haven’t found it. Nations that are isolationist tend to find themselves isolated over time, as other nations seek out more reliable partners in order to promote its national interests. The Obama Doctrine, apparently, has only one principle: he wants to be the first president in memory not to send any American soldier into battle in a conflict of his own choosing. Our foes have realized that, and the liberties they are taking within their own countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran) and outside their borders (Russia, China) are the natural consequence.
For sure, Obama sees no primary role for America on the world scene, a corollary of his discomfort with the notion of American exceptionalism. A nation like all nations – as exceptional as is Greece – does not intervene in the domestic affairs of other nations, no matter the brutality of those nations to their own people or the jeopardizing of American interests. Thus, the arsenal of US diplomacy, which once ranged from guns to butter, now consists of several weapons: sarcasm, supplications, nasty words, and the nuclear option, nasty words accompanied by a scowl.
Most international problems are thwarted through deterrence because, as in many of crisis points listed here, once the bad guys act, options become very limited. It is thus the deterrence which has the most effect, short-term and long-term, and America’s deterrence capacity is moribund. Obama’s hackneyed and repetitive response – “which war would you like to start?” – underscores his indifference to governance and the loss of America’s international esteem. A recent poll, for the first time, failed to list the American president as among the world’s top ten leaders. That is as unsurprising as it is dangerous and humiliating.
Obama seems most comfortable in the ceremonial aspects of his job, and the perks of travel, hobnobbing with celebrities and the ubiquitous fund-raising. He is ill-suited to the tasks of policy-making, consensus-building, negotiation or challenging any group in his constituency for the greater good of the nation. The half-decade stall on the Keystone pipeline or this week’s announcement that the government wishes to revert to relaxing credit requirements so housing loans can again be made to people who cannot afford to repay them do little more than solicit the votes of two important Democratic voting blocs (environmentalists and the poor, respectively). The war on women and the income inequality scam are hardy election year perennials that continue to succeed in a populace undistinguished by its faculties of critical thinking. Obama seemed more outraged by the rhetoric of Donald Sterling than by the actions of Vladimir Putin.
But these domestic issues pale before the dangers on the world scene. Like many bad presidents, he likely will have the luxury of eluding the inexorable consequences of his incompetence while still in office (think Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan, whose lassitude made the Civil War inevitable, but that erupted under Lincoln’s watch). For example, unless there is some military action from a third-party, the next president will have to deal with an Iranian bomb. Gentlemen all, the Iranians will at least have the courtesy to refrain from exploding their nuclear device until their patron’s term is over.
Then it will be someone else’s problem. Like all the rest of us. No Churchill or Thatcher, no FDR or Reagan, loom on the horizon. America, and the free world, deserve better.