Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Foreign Policies of President Obama

Recently I was asked to comment on President Obama’s foreign policy. By no means am I a foreign policy expert and what I know – if anything—is based entirely on what I have read and seen on TV. However, based upon that limited foundation, I think President Obama’s foreign policy rests on two key factors. I believe he is first and foremost an “Internationalist” in the sense that he believes in World Government. This translates into a tendency to subordinate America’s interests to those of the UN and the international community as a whole. The second factor is his belief that America is an overbearing arrogant super power that acts unilaterally and without regard for the interests of other nations.

President Obama came to the Presidency with no experience in business, government, or the military but with an activist vision of all of these things. He promised to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to close the Guantanamo Prison, to repair America’s relationship with the Islamic World, to reach out to Iran on their Nuclear ambitions, to reset relations with Russia toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons, to work with the Chinese on global issues, and to make peace in the middle east. In retrospect it is easy to see the naïveté of these goals because of their idealism and failure to account for any of the underlying details. President Obama’s lack of experience left him unprepared for the reality of his position and the constraints on his power. Each of his objectives individually are worthwhile but he did not realize that none of these stood alone but had strings and impacts in Congress and with other countries.

From the outset he found that there were constraints on his power, constraints from congress, from the people, and even from other countries. It seemed to him closing Guantanamo and moving the prisoners to prisons and to civilian trial would only require his order. He was unprepared for the cost, the public outcry, and the legal issues. Ultimately he was forced to abandon this goal and act pragmatically. In fact President Obama’s efforts to achieve the lofty goals he promised have consistently yielded to practical decisions and compromises.

Having been raised as a Muslim or simply exposed to Islam, he came to office perhaps with a greater understanding of Islam than any previous president. Armed with this knowledge he aimed to repair America’s reputation within the Islamic community. This objective formed the basis for much of his foreign policy. This was a policy that not only failed in its objective but seriously damaged his position at home. His actions and compromises have been viewed abroad as signs of weakness and intransigence and at home as examples of his inexperience, incompetence, and subordination of American interests to internationalism.

One of President Obama’s objectives was to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but he quickly discovered that starting a war is much easier than ending one. But there was never a declaration of war so as President he could end them with a stroke of a pen, which he more or less did. This was done over the objections of the military and the result left Iraq dominated by religious conflict, an incipient civil war, a corrupt government heavily influenced by Iran, and with Al Qaeda resurgent. The results in Afghanistan are similar. By announcing a withdrawal date the Taliban and Al Qaeda took that as surrender and have become resurgent. In this instance he fulfilled his campaign promise but his foreign policy failed and the Islamic community saw this as an example of American unreliability and weakness.

As part of his policy of Islamic refurbishment President Obama distanced himself from Israel. To a rational person that might have made sense but the Islamic countries simply saw that as another sign of weakness and a demonstration of how unreliable America is as an ally. Rather than improving the situation in the Middle East President Obama’s policies have left the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda stronger throughout the area. More importantly the policy toward Israel has emboldened Iran and the Palestinians and has made the possibility of another war greatly increased.

The Foreign policy toward China has been one of talk more than action. The Chinese government has consistently attacked our government and industrial computers for the purpose of stealing secrets. The Chinese do not honor copyright laws and manipulate their currency. All of these things are known and reported in the press, yet there has been no action taken to correct or prevent these. This has had a huge impact on the American economy through the loss of jobs and revenues. The idea that problems can be solved through talk is the basis of diplomacy but ultimately diplomacy must be backed up by action and these actions have been missing throughout this administration.

The foreign policies of President Obama have been well intended with the idea that by retreating from an aggressive leadership position America’s image would be enhanced, but clearly this has not been the result.

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