More so than on domestic policy, President Obama laid out his national security views in the 2012 campaign. We were forewarned:
- He wants to pull out of Afghanistan as fast as possible;
- he thinks there is time to negotiate with Iran over nuclear weapons;
- he is intent on slashing defense spending;
- he is averse to taking bold action in Syria;
- he has no interest in rebuilding our navy;
- he believes we can get along with Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt; and
- he wants to give Russia’s Vladimir Putin “more flexibility.”
This is now the agenda of the president whom voters chose for the next four years. Don’t get me wrong — it would be swell if he suddenly adopted an interest in human rights, acted meaningfully in Syria, stood up to Putin and negotiated a reasonable agreement to leave forces in Afghanistan. I don’t, however, think this president is going to do these things. That was the outlook of the other guy running for president.
Take Syria. The New York Times reported last week (a couple days after conservatives at the Foreign Policy Initiative roundly criticized the administration), “The Obama administration, hoping that the conflict in Syria has reached a turning point, is considering deeper intervention to help push President Bashar al-Assad from power, according to government officials involved in the discussions.” We haven’t intervened at all so I don’t understand the qualifier “deeper,” but after nearly two years the administration, we hear, is now considering doing something useful in helping to oust Assad. We might even “deploy surface-to-air missiles in Turkey, ostensibly to protect that country from Syrian missiles that could carry chemical weapons.” But if those aren’t used to set up a no-fly zone then we are helping Turkey, but not the Syrian freedom fighters.
Don’t however get your hopes up. News reports suggest that the administration’s main concern is preventing weapons from getting into the wrong hands (which we can’t really distinguish from the right hands given our sloth in developing a relationship with the Syrian opposition.)
In short, a vote for Obama was a vote to do nothing about the Syrian bloodbath.
Then there is Afghanistan. The Post editorial board wrote on Sunday:
In Washington, officials have been briefing journalists about minimalist options for counterterrorism forces and trainers after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops is completed. The figure of 10,000 troops recently reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times is about one-third the number that defense analysts Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, who have advised U.S. commanders in Afghanistan for years, said would be necessary for a stay-on force in a recent Post op-ed. . . .
The government of President Hamid Karzai, for its part, is making its own troubling noises. Mr. Karzai has been suggesting that he will refuse to grant U.S. troops immunity from the Afghan courts after 2014 — crossing what he knows is a Pentagon red line. . . .
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it is: This is how negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government unfolded during the 2011 troop withdrawal there. U.S. officials said they wanted an agreement, while steadily scaling down the proposed size of the force; Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, perceiving ambivalence, declined to make the political effort needed to win agreement from parliament on a bilateral accord including an immunity provision.
This, as the editorial board notes, allowed the sectarian re-division of Iraq, Iranian influence to build in Iraq and the use of Iraqi “airspace to supply weapons and trainers to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.” Well, at least no one can claim surprise that Obama has no interest in maintaining a substantial (i.e. effective) contingent in Afghanistan.
A vote for Obama was a vote to walk away from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
And likewise, the defense sequestration cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called “devastating” are more likely than not to go forward. In any event, our armed services will not be amply funded in the years ahead. There too a vote for Obama was a vote for weakening our fighting ability.
Whatever his many faults, including a less than robust explanation of his own policy on Afghanistan, Mitt Romney’s vision was very different. And he lost. Elections do have consequences, and those who either actively supported Obama or were simply content to see Romney lose (nothing like a good “I told you so” from the conservative Romney haters) can now observe Obama’s undiluted foreign policy vision. Horrifying as it is, on this score Obama can actually claim a mandate from the voters.