Friday, December 30, 2011
Obama's foreign policy spin
In recent months, a curious argument has surfaced in favor of US President Barack Obama. His supporters argue that Obama's foreign policy has been a massive success. If he had as much freedom of action in domestic affairs as he has in foreign affairs, they say, his achievements in all areas would be without peer.
Expressing this view, Karen Finney, a former Democratic spokeswoman who often defends the party in the US media, told The Huffington Post, "Look at the progress the president can make when he doesn't have Republicans obstructing him."According to a Gallup poll from early November, the US public also believes that Obama's foreign policy has been successful. Whereas 67 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy and the federal budget deficit, 63% of Americans approved of his terrorism strategy. So, too, 52% approved of his decision to remove US forces from Iraq. In general, 49% of Americans approved of Obama's handling of foreign affairs while 44% disapproved.
These support levels tell us a great deal about the insularity of the American public. For when one assesses the impact to date of Obama's foreign policy it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that if the US public was more aware of the actual consequences of his policies, his approval rating in foreign affairs would be even lower than his approval rating in domestic policy.
Indeed, a cursory examination of the impact so far of Obama's foreign policies in country after country and region after region indicates that his policies have been more damaging to US national interests than those of any president since Jimmy Carter. And unlike Obama, Americans widely recognized that Carter's foreign policies were failed and dangerous.
The failure of Obama's foreign policies has been nowhere more evident than in the Middle East.
Take Iraq for instance. Obama and his supporters claim that the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq is one of his great accomplishments. By pulling out, Obama kept his promise to voters to end the war in "a responsible manner." And as the polling data indicate, most Americans are willing to give him credit for the move.
But the situation on the ground is dangerous and getting worse every day. Earlier this month, just ahead of the departure of the last US forces from Iraq, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited with Obama at the White House. Immediately after he returned home, the Shi'ite premier began a ruthless campaign against his Sunni coalition partners in a no-holds barred bid to transform the Iraqi government and armed forces into partisan institutions controlled by his Dawa Party.
Forces commanded by Maliki's son arrested and allegedly tortured several of the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's bodyguards. They forced the guards to implicate Hashimi in terror plots. Maliki subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Hashimi. So, too, he issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak and fired him without permission from the Iraqi parliament.
Hashimi and Mutlak are now in hiding in Erbil. Maliki is demanding that the Kurdish regional government extradite them to Baghdad for trial.
Maliki's actions have driven Sunni leaders in the Sunni provinces of Diyala, Anbar and Salahadin to demand autonomy under Iraq's federal system. He has responded by deploying loyal forces to the provinces to fight the local militias.
The situation is so explosive that three prominent Sunni leaders, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, who heads the Iraqiya party, Parliament Speaker Osama Nujaifi and Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi published an op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday begging Obama to rein in Maliki in order to prevent Iraq from plunging into civil war.
THEN THERE is Egypt. Obama's decision in February to abandon then-president Hosni Mubarak, the US's most dependable ally in the Arab world, in favor of the protesters in Tahrir Square was hailed by Obama's supporters as a victory for democracy and freedom against tyranny. By supporting the protesters against the US ally, Obama argued that he was advancing US interests by showing the Muslim world the US favored the people over their leaders.
Ten months later, the Egyptian people has responded to this populist policy by giving jihadist parties a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections. For the first time in 30 years, the strategic anchor of US power in the Arab world - the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty - is in danger. Indeed, there is no reason to believe it will survive.
According to the Gallup poll, 48% of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan and 44% disapprove. Here, too, it is far from clear what there is to approve of. Against the public entreaties of the US commanders on the ground, Obama is carrying through on his pledge to withdraw all US surge troops from Afghanistan before the US presidential election in November. In the meantime, the US is engaged in negotiations with the Taliban. The purpose of these negotiations is to reach a political agreement that would set the conditions for the Taliban to return to power after a US pullout. That is, the purpose of the talks is to set the conditions for a US defeat in Afghanistan.
The administration hails its success in overthrowing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi without sacrificing a single US soldier. And certainly, this was a success. However, Gaddafi's opponents, who are now taking charge of the country, are arguably worse for the US than Gaddafi was. They include a significant number of al-Qaida terrorists and are dominated by jihadist forces. Attempts by the NATO-backed provisional government to convince them to disarm have failed completely.
Since Gaddafi was overthrown, large quantities of advanced weapons from his arsenal - allegedly including stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction - have gone missing. Significant quantities of Libyan shoulder-to-air missiles have made their way to Gaza since Gaddafi's overthrow.
In Syria, while the administration insists that dictator Bashar Assad's days in power are numbered, it is doing essentially nothing to support the opposition. Fearing the instability that would ensue if a civil war were to break out in Iran's Arab protectorate, the US has chosen to effectively sit on its hands and so cancel any leverage it ought to wield over the shape of things to come.
AS FOR Iran, Obama's policies have brought about a situation where the regime in Tehran does not fear a US military strike on its nuclear installations. Obama's open opposition to the prospect of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations has similarly convinced the regime that it can proceed without fear in its nuclear project.
Iran's threat this week to close the Straits of Hormuz in the event that the US imposes an embargo on Iranian oil exports is being widely characterized by the US media as a sign of desperation on the part of the regime. But it is hard to see how this characterization aligns with reality. It is far more appropriate to view Iran's easy threats as a sign of contempt for Obama and for US power projection under his leadership.
If Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons are thwarted, it will be despite Obama, not because of him.
Then there is the so-called peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Due to Obama's unbridled hostility towards Israel, there is no chance whatsoever that Israel and the PLO will reach a peace deal for the foreseeable future. Instead, Fatah and Hamas have agreed to unify their forces. The only thing standing in the way of a Hamas takeover of the PLO is Congress's threat to cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority. For his part, Obama has gone out of his way to discredit the congressional threat by serving as an indefatigable lobbyist for maintaining US financial support for the PA.
Of course, the Middle East is not the only region where the deleterious consequences of Obama's foreign policy are being felt. From Europe to Africa, from Asia to Latin America, Obama's determination to embrace US adversaries such as Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez has weakened pro-US forces and strengthened US foes.
So how is that that while Carter was perceived by the majority of the American public as a foreign policy failure, a large plurality of Americans views Obama's foreign policy as a success?
Obama's success in hiding his failures from the American public owes to two related factors. First, to date the US has not been forced to contend directly with the consequences of his failures.
Carter's failures were impossible to ignore because the blowback from them was immediate, unmistakable and harsh. His betrayal of the shah of Iran led directly to the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and the hostage crisis. Carter could not spin to his advantage the daily stories about the hostages. He could not influence CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite's decision to end every broadcast by reminding viewers how many days the hostages had been in captivity.
So, too, the consequences of Carter's weakness in confronting the Soviet Union were impossible to ignore or minimize with images of Soviet tank columns invading Afghanistan dominating the news.
To date, Obama's foreign policy failures have yet to explode in a manner that can make the average American aware of them.
Then, too, Obama and his advisers have been extremely adept in presenting his tactical achievements as strategic victories. So it is that the administration has successfully cast the killing of Osama bin Laden as a strategic victory in the war on terror. Obama has upheld the mission, as well as the killing of al- Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki, as proof of his competence in securing US interests. And to a large degree, the US public has accepted his claims.
Because it is impossible to know when Obama's failures will begin to directly impact the America people, it is possible that he will not pay a political price for them in the 2012 election. Be that as it may, the Republican presidential contenders would provide an invaluable service to both themselves and the American public as a whole if they made exposing Obama's disastrous stewardship of US foreign policy a central plank of their campaigns.
At a minimum, forewarned is forearmed. And the dimensions of Obama's failures are so enormous, that it is clear that the American people will suffer their consequences for years to come.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.