The Obama administration’s foreign policy is a disaster. The Post headline reads: “U.S., Japan fail to reach trade deal on Obama trip.” The New York Times blasts: “Barack Obama suffers setbacks in Japan and the Mideast.” The report needles: “On Thursday, as Russia staged military exercises on the border with Ukraine, [Secretary of State John] Kerry denounced broken promises from the Kremlin but took no specific action.”
At Time magazine, Michael Crowley takes a sledgehammer to the Obama team: “Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures Are Proving His Critics Right.” He explains:
[T]he cynics must be feeling vindicated. They snickered at John Kerry’s bid for Middle East peace, calling it doomed to fail. They seem to have been right. They have also chortled at Kerry’s long meetings with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, calling diplomacy with Vladimir Putin a fool’s errand. The impending collapse of the Ukraine deal struck in Geneva last night would seem to affirm that view.
The cynics also doubting Obama’s Asia pivot, seeing it as a futile attempt to dodge harder problems elsewhere. Obama’s distracted trip this week is at least a point in their favor.
And they argue that Obama’s aversion to getting involved in Syria is not only a humanitarian tragedy but will cause deeper problems for the U.S. in the long run. A new chemical weapons crisis would be a good example.
On this, the president can’t blame the Republicans. In the first term he set a pattern — soaring rhetoric, ending hard power commitments coupled with big defense cuts, refusal to take on totalitarian governments on human rights, solicitous behavior toward Iran and Russia. It didn’t work — anywhere.
We can draw a number of conclusions from all of this. First, the disasters may be popping up now, but it is hard to argue that the first term did not set in motion (by inaction in Syria, a faulty arms deal with Russia, contentious relations with Israel) the failures we see now playing out. For that, the president and his first-term national security team are directly responsible. Second, the left- and right-wing dream that the United States could recede and let others deal with their problems proved once again just plain wrong. Third, the adage that small steps early can obviate the need for big, costly commitments later on has been borne out in Syria. Fourth, the United States needs a president fully engaged in national security who can assess how U.S. actions are interpreted by others. Finally, when things get worse (first Crimea and then Ukraine, a few hundred dead and eventually over 150,000 dead in Syria) they will continue to get worse until we try something new. Passivity is a recipe for chaos, instability and violence. In Europe, for the first time since the Cold War the sovereignty of U.S. allies is at risk.
We can therefore expect additional crises, more aggressive behavior and less cooperation from allies as they assess American fecklessness. The president who wanted to rid the world of nukes is convincing Sunni monarchs and Eastern European countries that it is foolish to rely on the American nuclear umbrella. How many countries will insist on their own arsenal to protect themselves against Russia, China or Iran?
When Republicans choose their candidate for commander in chief, they’d be wise to pick someone who understood this all along — not simply when it all went haywire in 2014.