Obama’s Foreign Policy

critics

A recent meme from the right has been that President Obama has failed at foreign policy.    FOX News, Townhall, the Weekly Standard — the usual partisan suspects — say President Obama has a “non-existent” foreign policy and should take the blame when things go bad in Ukraine, Syria or Iraq.   In what President Reagan once derided as a “blame America first” tendency, the critics want to blame Obama for everything that goes wrong in the world.

In reality, his Presidency has been a foreign policy success on a number of fronts, most importantly extricating the US from two costly wars and responding to a new multi-polar international environment wherein the role of the US is different than at any time in our history.   That is what irks the critics; America’s role in the world is changing and they want to blame the President.   That is misguided and hypocritical.

The criticisms from the right (I’ll deal with the left’s critique in a later post) fall in three categories:

1.  Obama is not actively using American power.   Obama is blamed for “enticing” Putin to act in Ukraine because he perceived Obama as weak or unwilling to act.   Syria’s horrible civil war is Obama’s fault because the US has not been able to stop it.   This criticism essentially says that the global villains sense Obama’s weakness and “detachment” from foreign affairs and thus are willing to stir up trouble.

foreignpolicy

2.  Obama is siding with the wrong people.  In Libya, when Obama did use force to end a civil war, he was accused of helping Islamic extremists who were part of the anti-Qaddafi opposition.   Similarly, when the US didn’t come to the aid of Mubarak to keep him in power in Egypt, the critics said that embracing the Arab Spring would be to embrace Islamic extremism.  Better to keep corrupt dictators in power than risk these rebellions.  They point to the difficult transitions in the region as proof that it would have been better to keep the dictatorships in power.

3.  Obama isn’t as supportive of Israel as he should be; his inability to get the peace process going again is a result of weakness.  Never mind that the peace process fell apart during the Clinton Administration.   While Bush was in office violence suicide bombing and war riveted the region.  Nope, to the critics any lack of progress is all Obama’s fault.   The same group has been vocal about Iran, saying Iran is akin to Nazi Germany, and not allowing Israel to take out its nuclear sites risks a future holocaust.

Uff-da!

 

The first criticism comes primarily from neo-conservatives, people who supported the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   They do not accept that the world now is one that the US can’t simply shape at will.  That is what they thought we could do in Iraq – use US power to spread democracy and shape a region to better fit our values.    The war against Iraq was won; the effort to reshape the region failed spectacularly.   Many of these critics, such as Charles Krauthammer and the critics at the Weekly Standard, are in denial that their world view have been discredited by history.

Beyond that, the idea that somehow a “tough” President would have scared Putin away from Ukraine borders on the delusionally absurd.   Putin acted out of weakness as his Ukraine policy fell apart with the ouster of Yanukovych.   Rambo could be President and Putin would have felt compelled to take Crimea and pressure Ukraine.   He knows the US and EU have no interest in war.  Yet President Obama has worked with the EU to craft a response more likely to succeed.   Russia’s future depends on connecting with the global economy; the USSR failed because it could not.

It's important to be on the right side of history as the Arab world begins a difficult transition

It’s important to be on the right side of history as the Arab world begins a difficult transition

It’s also absurd to think the US should have tried to stop the Arab Spring or continue support for thugs like Mubarak.   When a region with 50% of the population under 23, linked through the information revolution, show disgust for corrupt obsolete dictatorships, it would be disastrous for us to side with the dictators.  That part of the world is undertaking a real transition – our best bet is to be on the right side of history.

So the critics have a very weak case against the President.   They fail to offer viable alternatives, which is telling.  Their real problem is an inability to accept that world where the US is no longer the dominant power.   Over the last twenty years globalization has altered the nature of sovereignty and global politics.   The economic crisis in the US revealed structural weaknesses thirty years in the making.   The Iraq war showed the limits of US power and soured the public on interventionism.   The world is fundamentally different than it was in 1994.

If President Bush had accomplished this, he'd have been lauded as a hero.

If President Bush had accomplished this, he’d have been lauded as a hero.

Obama’s successes – getting Iran to agree to give up its capacity to build nuclear weapons with UN oversight, extricating the US from Iraq and Afghanistan, getting a deal with Russia to destroy large numbers of nuclear missiles, killing Osama Bin Laden while weakening al qaeda, improving economic cooperation after the 2008 catastrophe, and re-orienting US foreign policy for the new multi-polar world – are profound.   Obama’s multi-lateralism, hated especially by the neo-conservatives, is working.  The US is more respected and in a better strategic position now than we have been at any time since the end of the Cold War.  Despite inheriting two wars, the President has avoided any foreign policy debacle.

So all the critics can say is that “bad things happen in the world and we blame Obama.”  *shrug*

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  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on May 2, 2014 - 06:26

    ”When a region with 50% of the population under 23, linked through the information revolution,”

    Not to mention that most were also routinely unemployed

    ”Their real problem is an inability to accept that world where the US is no longer the dominant power.   Over the last twenty years globalization has altered the nature of sovereignty and global politics.”

    All the while the GOP and neo-liberals promoted economic globilization they were also transferring more power to the multi-national corporations who are now getting legislation passed (TPP and TTIP) to supersede any local, state and national laws that they perceive of potentially inhibiting their profits

  2. #2 by John Squires on May 2, 2014 - 13:17

    “multi-national corporations who are now getting legislation passed (TPP and TTIP) to supersede any local, state and national laws that they perceive of potentially inhibiting their profits”

    You mean like the insurance corporations and Obamacare? Ain’t nothing a little interstate commerce clause can’t fix for your pals.

    • #3 by lbwoodgate on May 2, 2014 - 17:45

      “You mean like the insurance corporations and Obamacare?”

      No Sq

      • #4 by lbwoodgate on May 2, 2014 - 17:47

        “You mean like the insurance corporations and Obamacare?”

        No Squires I don’t. You clearly haven’t got a clue what is entailed in these so-called trade agreements. There is no comparison here between them and Obamacare. Go sell your anti-Obama snake oil to someone who gives a shit.

      • #5 by John Squires on May 3, 2014 - 01:23

        Of course Woody. On the one hand you have industry(s) with a huge captive market, legally forcing consumers to buy financially more burdensome products and punishing them of they don’t. On the other hand you have industry(s) with a huge captive market legally forcing consumers to buy financially more burdensome products and punishing them if the don’t. The fascist connections between government and self-interested business are quite clearly different.

        On the other hand, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then maybe it is just a cranky old guy with a duck caller.

      • #6 by lbwoodgate on May 3, 2014 - 06:31

        “then maybe it is just a cranky old guy with a duck caller.”

        And then there are those who see what they want to see and disregard all else.

        Believe what you will but show me an international tribunal set up through Obamacare that can override local and state jurisdictions. I’m assuming of course you’re aware that those so-called trade agreements will establish those if Congress passes them. There will be no opting out for states on the restrictions of these agreements like there was for Medicaid expansion in Obamacare if the TPP and TTIP

      • #7 by John Squires on May 3, 2014 - 12:56

        Ahhh special pleading now, just considering the current states’ opt-out of Medicaid? Ignoring the big fascist crony gorilla in the room? Nice work if you can get it.

      • #8 by lbwoodgate on May 3, 2014 - 14:56

        “Ahhh special pleading now, just considering the current states’ opt-out of Medicaid? Ignoring the big fascist crony gorilla in the room?”

        Really Squires? This is all you have? Using fantastical and baseless images and calling me an old quack? You have no specifics to match the two do you? You’re just farting in the wind. So typical.

      • #9 by John Squires on May 4, 2014 - 01:38

        How quickly we descend into abuse, LB, when the flaws in our weak arguments are exposed. You can see the crony capitalism on one hand but fail to see it gut punching you with the other. Well, you can be happy like that I suppose, but the abuse is rather un-Christian.

    • #10 by lbwoodgate on May 4, 2014 - 10:01

      “How quickly we descend into abuse, LB, when the flaws in our weak arguments are exposed”

      You’re still just blathering dipsh-t. Show me the measurable comparisons between Obamacare and these trade agreements or STFU.

      I can descend even further into abuse if all you can do is ignore the specifics of this “debate”. And being “unchristian” is something you have to deal with, not me.

      • #11 by Scott Erb on May 4, 2014 - 10:14

        I haven’t been able to figure out what John is talking about, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with foreign policy. I do see his point that insurance companies are too powerful (as are all corporations). In states that pay half of what we pay for health care, cover everyone, and have better overall health care, have one thing in common: insurance companies are banned from making profits. Yet they compete, are effective, and the systems are supported by left and right. Profitable and powerful insurance companies are a problem. But that’s not the result of Obamacare.

      • #12 by lbwoodgate on May 4, 2014 - 10:22

        “I haven’t been able to figure out what John is talking about, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with foreign policy.”

        Nor do I Scott. My guess is he is just another anti-Obama troll that thinks everything he doesn’t understand and is offended by is somehow connected to that “Muslim, socialist” in the White House.

      • #13 by John Squires on May 4, 2014 - 11:02

        My LB, you certainly have the itchy trigger finger today and now you’re seeing racists in the shadows. I don’t believe I’ve offered any abuse and I know Scott’s policy on this site. I’d hate to see you dealing with a Republican, no doubt there is nothing left but a smoking pair of shoes after 10 minutes. Still, you can have your corporatist views as you like, no argument from me on that.

      • #14 by lbwoodgate on May 4, 2014 - 11:11

        “My LB, you certainly have the itchy trigger finger today ….blah, blah, blah”

        Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  3. #15 by pino on May 2, 2014 - 21:43

    Obama is blamed for “enticing” Putin to act in Ukraine because he perceived Obama as weak or unwilling to act.

    Crimea – no. The current mess in Eastern Ukraine – yes.

    Syria’s horrible civil war is Obama’s fault because the US has not been able to stop it.

    No. His handling of “The Red Line” is weak.

    In Libya, when Obama did use force to end a civil war, he was accused of helping Islamic extremists who were part of the anti-Qaddafi opposition.

    He went to war, with no clear US threat, without approval.

    Tellingly you make no reference to his absolute failure to handle the Ukrainian crisis. Even stipulating that he couldn’t have done anything to prevent the Crimea, he has utterly failed to make a case for his “Obama Doctrine” as it pertains to Russia.

    • #16 by Scott Erb on May 2, 2014 - 21:45

      What would you do about Ukraine? That’s the thing – I’ve studied foreign policy my whole life, and I think he’s doing exactly what is right. The critics need to give an alternative – otherwise, it’s all BS. So what is it that you think he should do different. Be specific, not vague.

      • #17 by pino on May 2, 2014 - 22:48

        I’ve studied foreign policy my whole life, and I think he’s doing exactly what is right.

        What is the “Obama Doctrine”? What is the strategy you think he is pursuing?

      • #18 by Scott Erb on May 2, 2014 - 23:15

        No, you have to give your alternative. Unless you do that, you have nothing. I’ve put in my posts what I think his strategy is; don’t evade – answer the question: what is he doing wrong, specifically, and what would you do differently?

    • #19 by lbwoodgate on May 2, 2014 - 22:00

      “his absolute failure to handle the Ukrainian crisis.”

      The only “absolute failure” here pino has been that of the global plutocrats to draw Ukraine away from the Russian sphere of influence.

  4. #20 by pino on May 3, 2014 - 11:34

    I’ve put in my posts what I think his strategy is;

    You skipped Ukraine entirely in this post.

    what is he doing wrong, specifically,

    He hasn’t articulated his goal.

    I have no idea if he wants Russia out of Crimea or not. I have no idea if he thinks Putin can have Eastern Ukraine or not.

    What if ethic Russians want to leave Ukrainian influence and join Russia? Is Obama okay with that or not?

    What are the consequences should Putin fail to behave?

    So far Obama hasn’t done a thing. He’s claiming that he’s gonna implement punishing sanctions, but he doesn’t have buy in from Europe – s he can’t.

    Which is fine – except that he looks stupid and without influence. Which, of course, is true.

    This is exactly like Syria, where he was outplay by Putin *shocker* when they agreed to the chemical weapons destruction. Not only will Syria miss the dealine, they are using chemical weapons but the agreement solidified Assad as the legit leader of the State.

    Obama has zero clue what he wants to happen in Ukraine – and therefore has an inexplicable strategy.

    • #21 by lbwoodgate on May 3, 2014 - 11:56

      “I have no idea if he wants Russia out of Crimea or not. I have no idea if he thinks Putin can have Eastern Ukraine or not.”

      Really pino? You want absolutes and details on policies that only his inner circle is privy too at this time but if you are unclear that he doesn’t want Russia in the Crimea or east Ukraine then you simply are not are not paying attention

      “He hasn’t articulated his goal.”

      Forcing Russia’s to back off through economic sanctions. Why isn’t this a goal to you?

      “What if ethic Russians want to leave Ukrainian influence and join Russia? Is Obama okay with that or not?”

      This clearly shows you haven’t been paying attention. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine do not want to be absorbed back into Russia.

      “a new poll shows that few of the people on whose behalf Putin claims to be acting are interested in separatism from Ukraine or in having their regions become part of the Russian Federation.” SOURCE

      “So far Obama hasn’t done a thing. He’s claiming that he’s gonna implement punishing sanctions, but he doesn’t have buy in from Europe – s he can’t.”

      Man are you out of touch.

      G-7 leaders agree to ‘move swiftly’ to impose new sanctions on Russia

      • #22 by pino on May 5, 2014 - 09:09

        Forcing Russia’s to back off through economic sanctions.

        If that is his goal – then he’s failing.

        Russia did not leave Crimea – they solidified their position.
        Russia is not stopping at Crimea, they are moving into East Ukraine. And recently Putin has said that peace efforts have failed.

        I’m not sure there is anything that we can do to stop Putin from taking the Ukraine – save deploying troops. And, to be frank, I’m exhausted fighting all the world’s wars for ’em.

        So, if we can’t or won’t stop putin we should admit that and move on. Instead, Obama issues yet another red line. And it’s silly.

        I think Obama is handling both Syria

        The goal in Syria – I think- is to remove Assad and destroy the Chemical weapons, In making an agreement with Syria to destroy those weapons Obama implicitly solidified Assad’s power.

        And now Syria is going to miss their deadline to ship those weapons and – according to reports – are using those weapons.

        Measuring against Obama’s own goals, he’s failing.

        if you can’t offer an alternative, you have nothing real.

        You are purposely missing the point. I’m not questioning the policy, I’m questioning Obama’s ability to achieve whatever it is he says he’s gonna do.

        From Syria to Crimea and now to Ukraine, his stated policy -when articulated- is largely a failure as he continues to miss on his own stated goals.

      • #23 by lbwoodgate on May 5, 2014 - 09:34

        ”If that is his goal – then he’s failing.”

        I don’t think the jury is back on this yet. Putin will display some stubbornness but sanctions on some of his wealthiest supporters will eventually get him to tone down his stubbornness and start to work with NATO

        ”I’m not sure there is anything that we can do to stop Putin from taking the Ukraine – save deploying troops”

        Again there is nothing to support this perception. At best Putin probably wants just enough of Ukraine in the east to access the Crimea which gives him Black Sea ports.

        ”So, if we can’t or won’t stop putin we should admit that and move on. Instead, Obama issues yet another red line.”

        What was the red line he issued here? Please supply a link that validates this. I know Obama and NATO have puffed their chest and “warned” Putin not to invade Ukraine, which he hasn’t, but where has Obama issued a red line like he did in Syria.

        And for the record, that “red line” in Syria was probably not really not crossed. There is evidence now that some Syrian rebels were prompted by Turkish authorities to set of gas bombs to draw the U.S. into the civil war there.

        ”“Obama’s [red line] change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff… As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.”

        The US military leadership also knew that White House claims that there could be no other source for the sarin gas than the Syrian army were false. “The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons,” Hersh reports. “On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell…” SOURCE

      • #24 by pino on May 13, 2014 - 15:54

        I don’t think the jury is back on this yet. Putin will display some stubbornness but sanctions on some of his wealthiest supporters will eventually get him to tone down his stubbornness and start to work with NATO

        So, France is selling Russia warships and Putin is threatening to ban the US from the space station.

        I get that you are emotionally tied to this President and to seeing him succeed – look, I’d be nervous if I voted for him too.

        But he’s an amateur that never had any hope of managing this successfully.

    • #25 by Scott Erb on May 3, 2014 - 12:14

      Actually go back and I wrote a few complete posts on Ukraine. So you call Obama names, but still don’t give an alternative. What would you have the US do? Personally, I think Obama is handling both Syria and Ukraine well, and it’s silly to call Obama “clueless.” He’s getting intelligence and advice from the CIA, DOD and his advisers. They know what’s going on and are crafting the policy. You’re in the cheap seats calling names, name giving an alternative, and frankly not showing much understanding of what’s happening. You’re reading too many right wing pundits who simply attack Obama for anything, and you’re not reading the news from the region or listening to what the White House and EU are saying. But again, if you can’t offer an alternative, you have nothing real.

  5. #26 by Scott Erb on May 3, 2014 - 15:07

    In 2008 Putin invaded our close ally, Georgia. Georgia supported the US in the Iraq war, even sending troops. Their leadership was very pro-American and the US was trying to fast track Georgia into NATO. President Bush did LESS than Obama – did really nothing in response. Yet those same people who think Obama somehow should magically find a way to stop Putin in Ukraine didn’t blame Bush about Georgia. The reality there was like in Ukraine – these are former parts of the Soviet Union. If Russia gets involved the only thing we can really do is decide if its in our interest enough to put sanctions on them and harm their economy (knowing that there is blow back from that). The US and the EU is pursuing that path. It may or may not work, but what else would one do? That’s what gets me about critics who say “Obama should stop him.” Uh, the world doesn’t work that way.

  6. #27 by Scott Erb on May 5, 2014 - 10:33

    Russia will not leave the Crimea, that’s not the goal (nor should it be). The goal of the EU and US is to signal Russia that expansion in their near abroad through force and intimidation will generate penalities that ultimately will harm the Russian economy. Neither the US nor the EU have it within their interest to force Putin to stop, just like Bush couldn’t in 2008. The agreement with Syria was a major step for Obama, and gives us options should they fail or worse if they start using chemical weapons. The US proved in Libya that NATO can make a difference, but in Syria there are many mitigating factors that limit what we can do. One thing I tell students all the time is that the rhetoric of foreign policy has to be seen as instrumental – it does not usually indicate real goals, tactics or calculations. That’s because being open about those things can work against effective foreign policy. President Obama is respected by world leaders because they know they can trust what he says, and he works with people rather than trying to bully like Bush did (and that’s why until Bush changed his approach after 2006 he was the most ineffective foreign policy in recent history, doing more harm than good for the country – Obama has turned that around).

    So nit pick about rhetoric of “red lines” – that’s meaningless. You have to look at the policy in terms of national interests, goals, and the possible consequences of different choices. Along those lines, it appears that Obama has a very solid, rational policy. That’s why the critics don’t offer alternatives (those could be picked apart) and focus on sound bits. Obama can’t alone “achieve” the goal, no President can. He can only work with the EU and others in the region (Mideast for Syria) to create conditions where the goal is more likely to be achieved. So unless you advocate a particular or different policy, Pino, you have nothing – a personal insult of Obama is not foreign policy criticism.

  7. #28 by Scott Erb on May 13, 2014 - 16:00

    Gee Pino, you’re blaming Obama for what Russia and France do? You can’t accept that he’s a success, you have to blame anything that goes wrong on the President. That’s a bit silly.

  8. #29 by Scott Erb on May 13, 2014 - 16:44

    Again, Pino, we can go on and on like this – we each interpret the situation very differently, probably reflecting our own political biases (as well as what we read, I’m sure). Historians will decide with the help of hindsight which of us has the more accurate read.

  9. #30 by Alan Scott on May 13, 2014 - 18:35

    Scott,

    Your rationalizations are truly beyond my humble abilities.

  10. #31 by pino on May 13, 2014 - 18:56

    Gee Pino, you’re blaming Obama for what Russia and France do? You can’t accept that he’s a success, you have to blame anything that goes wrong on the President. That’s a bit silly.

    I made a point that Obama was failing at rallying Europe around sanctions – woodgate countered saying that I was wrong; the world was against Russia.

    I now counter with the fact that France – a tight ally, is not only rejecting sanctions but selling the Russians instruments of war.

    This goes against any argument that claims Obama is building a strong wall of sanctions – Europe is abandoning Obama.

    Likewise I’ve made the point that Obama is erecting “strong sanctions” which in reality are paper tigers. I’ve been countered with claims that Putin will wither underneath the sanctions.

    Data point suggests that Putin is hardly recoiling in fear or agony – he’s pushing back.

    You can’t see it because you are emotionally bought into this guy. Your analysis is less objective than subjective. It’s fine — he’s your guy and you’re gonna defend him. Just don’t get mad when he’s judged against real world expectations and is found to be wanting.

    • #32 by Scott Erb on May 13, 2014 - 20:02

      Europe operates on self interest. Do you recall when President Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq, and France and Germany sided WITH Russia against the US? Obama got Bin Laden, got us out of two disastrous wars (wars that weakened us immensely), patched up the NATO alliance, and has been shifting towards Asia and a 21st Century policy. He’s negotiating the largest free trade agreement in history for the US, and you overlook all of that because – what, France doesn’t do the US bidding. France never does! When Reagan was President France didn’t let the US use their air space to bomb Gaddafi (and Italy warned Libya). That’s why it’s so funny – you are using things that would happen to ANY President (and has happened – much worse, to Reagan and Bush) and blaming Obama and saying that makes him weak.

      I am using logic, I am pointing out that Obama’s done very well, and no President has the power to force Europe to go against their interests. You’re expecting something from Obama no other President has been able to do. Would you have called Reagan weak because of France not letting us use their air space? Reagan also tried hard to stop the Europeans from building a pipeline for natural gas from Russia, it was the top issue – and the Europeans ignored him. So really, when you take perspective, saying this somehow looks badly on Obama to me looks like desperation – you want so much to attack him that you don’t let yourself realize he’s actually doing pretty well. I could go on and on about Bush the Younger’s failures (Bush the Elder did very well on foreign policy, I would rate him higher than Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, LBJ, and JFK – I’m not driven by partisanship. I’d also rank Obama and Nixon close to each other. I think I’m looking at this far more objectively (and with more experience on foreign policy) than you are.

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