There has been considerable criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy lately both from foes and erstwhile allies. For example, Rich Lowry declaims:
What we have been witnessing the past few weeks, in real time, is the intellectual collapse of Obama’s foreign policy, accompanied by its rapid political unraveling. When Al Franken is ripping you for lacking a strategy against ISIL in Syria, you have a problem.
Obama’s view was that Al Qaeda was holed up in the badlands of Pakistan and you could drone it into submission. Then, if you stopped stirring up hornets’ nests in the Middle East, and demonstrated your good intentions, and pulled entirely out of Iraq and stayed out of Syria, you could focus on “nation building at home” and not worry about places like Mosul and Aleppo.
This, in a nutshell, was the theory of the “don’t do stupid stuff” doctrine.
Every particular was wrong.
while Jonathan Alter remarks:
Presidents must act at least as much as they react; they must seize the initiative and thrust their enemies on the defensive. Sometimes threatening war is the only way to keep the peace. Obama knows this abstractly, but it’s at odds with his interpretation of history and his assessment of the mission of his presidency, which is to end wars, not start them.
To put it in terms of compelling historical metaphor, Obama is a “Guns of August” guy. The book of that title, by Barbara Tuchman, chronicles how bluster and a series of miscalculations led European powers to blunder into World War I exactly a century ago.
Not to enter the “it’s all Bush’s fault” camp but I think it’s helpful to reconsider those ancient days of the last administration.
I think it’s a misconception to speak or think of the “Bush foreign policy”. I think it’s better to think of the first term Bush foreign policy and the second term Bush foreign policy. The Bush foreign policies.
Rather than recapping and analyzing what those policies were in the two different terms, I’d rather zip ahead, and note that there is no Obama foreign policy but Obama foreign policies. The first term Obama foreign policy closely resembled the second term Bush foreign policy.
The president would like us to think of his second term foreign policy as “don’t do stupid sh*t” but I think it’s closer to “no boots on the ground”. That may be stupid or it may be shrewd. It’s unquestionably shrewd in political terms. The American people are not in a mood for a ground war that involves taking casualties. I don’t think they were in a mood for that in 2003 either but that’s a different subject.
That policy will necessarily limit the objectives you can reasonably accomplish.
The sad reality is that there are occasions in which a president must convince the people that doing something they don’t want to do is the right thing to do. That is one of the hardest jobs of the president and the incumbent has shown very little interest in doing it.
Are the foreign policy challenges that face us today necessitate doing things that are unpopular? I’m not convinced they are but I also think that anybody who expects this president actually to go out and sell his policies and convince the American people to support something they oppose is thinking of some other president.