Folk song foreign policy out of tune with reality

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and re-election last year, I shared in many of my compatriots’ dread at what his policies would do to the economy and other domestic concerns. But I always harbored an even greater fear of what an Obama presidency would mean for the United States in terms of foreign affairs.

Ours is still a largely free-market economy. It will repair itself with a speed and thoroughness that’s in direct proportion to how much of that statement remains true. The “recovery” is held in check only by a government that can’t leave well enough alone. Still, given time and sound policies, the economy can be fixed. It’s far more difficult to fix a terrorist attack or nuclear strike.

So damaging as economic incompetence on the part of the federal government is, its incompetence on the world stage threatens consequences far more permanent. When Obama entered that stage five years ago, his foreign policy consisted entirely in the belief a few lofty speeches espousing 1960s leftist folk song ideals and apologizing for the evils of western civilization would enlighten the world, strike asunder centuries of cultural animosity and human nature and convince people everywhere to beat their RPGs into ploughshares.

Of course, that didn’t work as planned. So when, predictably, some event or crisis materialized for which the answer, my friend, wasn’t blowin’ in the wind, there was little to fall back on. Fortunately, the previous administration, whatever mistakes it made, had at least set some things in place to prevent complete bedlam. The surge won the war in Iraq. A comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy was having some success, including the eventual elimination of Osama Bin Laden. And there’s a reason Guantanamo Bay remains more than just a stubborn thorn in Castro’s side. But these inheritances from the Bush presidency, while adequate for dealing with established threats and situations, couldn’t predict or handle new ones that inevitably cropped up.

So the United States, under the tutelage of Obama, Clinton, et al, was woefully ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath of the Iraq war, the shift in focus to Afghanistan, the strategic posturing of Russia and certainly not the Arab Spring and its spinoffs in Libya and Syria. The result was a series of lost opportunities.

The administration’s inept failure to negotiate a status of forces treaty in Iraq that would have allowed for a useful American military presence to remain in the country already shows its consequences. Without a U.S. presence in the skies over Iraq, neighboring Iran now has a virtual aerial superhighway to Damascus, which it uses to ferry weapons, supplies, advisors and reinforcements to both the Assad regime and Tehran’s wholly owned subsidiary, Hezbollah. Having no real air force of its own, Iraq can do little about it. Whatever position the U.S. were to adopt regarding the Syrian civil war, the presence of American F-16s between Iran and Syria would have at least allowed the U.S. to limit Iranian influence in the conflict, which would have been to America’s advantage in any case.

Similar strategic missteps in Afghanistan threaten to reverse any gains made in the last 11-plus years. Obama’s foolhardy announcement of a firm withdrawal date for American combat troops has already given the Taliban a psychological victory and a stronger negotiating position — hence, the opening of what the Taliban clearly consider an embassy in Doha, ahead of peace talks.

Possibly the worst examples of lost opportunities are Libya and Syria. Both countries were long established terror threats to the west. Replacement of the Ghaddafi and Assad regimes was clearly in the best interests of the United States. America had an opportunity to at least try and influence events in the uprisings to promote favorable outcomes to American and western interests.

Instead, Obama was content with “leading from behind” in Libya — a euphemism for not having the foggiest notion what to do — and letting chaos ensue, which ultimately killed four Americans. In Syria, the failure to do anything early on — even engage in a deliberate neutrality designed to wring pro-western concessions out of Assad — has let Russia and Iran run roughshod over America’s strategic position in the Middle East and left the U.S. without any decent options remaining.

Granted, a large part of the problem is a woefully inadequate intelligence infrastructure that’s never really recovered from its emasculation at the hands of the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s. Then again, foreign policy taken from the pages of a John Lennon songbook is as unlikely to encourage a robust CIA as it is to encourage a strong and secure America.

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