A wide array of foreign policy experts, former U.S. officials and lawmakers agree that President Obama’s foreign policy, to the extent that he has one, is in disarray. Policy assumptions have proved false again and again. Iran would not be engaged. The root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the settlements. Reliance on aging Middle East despots was a mistake. Quietude on human rights has led to even more atrocious conduct in Cuba, China and elsewhere. Dov Zakheim, writing on Bahrain at the Shadow Government blog of Foreign Policy, explains:
Unfortunately, Washington appears to be willing to offer little more than words, and its words no longer carry much weight. The administration’s vacillation over Libya, coupled with the imminent withdrawal of combat troops in Iraq — where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is becoming ever more authoritarian — has underscored a growing perception of America’s declining influence in the region.
The same could be said of many of the Middle East countries where the United States has no clear policy and has exhibited no leadership.
We have almost two years to go in Obama’s term, and it is not to late to examine, critique and, we would hope, influence Obama administration policies. To do that, however, exacting oversight is needed. It is not enough to issue news releases and give speeches; the relevant chairmen of Senate and House committees need to summon administration figures and ask hard questions. Why are we offering World Trade Organization status for Russia without conditions? What have we accomplished by returning an ambassador to Damascus? What policy, if any, do we now have toward autocratic regimes that crack down on popular uprisings? Are we conditioning aid and support to “friendly” regimes on human rights progress? The questions are endless.
A case in point concerns our participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council. Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put on quite a performance at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Joseph Torsella to be the representative to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform. The video is worth viewing not only to see Rubio’s focus on the fundamental flaw in our decision to participate in the UNHRC (namely, that we’ve not improved it, only given it legitimacy), but also to watch the Obama appointee’s inability to articulate a cogent defense:
And that really is the central issue with so much of the Obama foreign policy, namely whether it is working. There is substantial evidence, from Alan Gross’s courtroom in Cuba to Iranian nuclear facilities, that it is not. And in Libya, as the New York Times reports, our dithering has now made a less extreme option to halt the bloodshed (a no-fly zone ) obsolete:
The administration, which remains deeply reluctant to be drawn into an armed conflict in yet another Muslim country, is nevertheless backing a resolution in the Security Council that would give countries a broad range of options for aiding the Libyan rebels, including military steps that go well beyond a no-flight zone.
Administration officials — who have been debating a no-flight zone for weeks — concluded that such a step now would be “too little, too late” for rebels who have been pushed back to Benghazi. That suggests more aggressive measures, which some military analysts have called a no-drive zone, to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from moving tanks and artillery into Benghazi.
And how long will it take to gain consensus on that? Congress can add “excessive reliance on feckless international bodies” to the oversight topic list.