Free Markets, Free People

Obama’s Emerging Foreign Policy

Fouad Ajami has a must-read article in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he lays out the emerging Obama foreign policy. In essence, however, he sums it up quite nicely in the subheading of this article: “No despot fears the president and no demonstrator in Tehran expects him to ride to the rescue”.

Instead, what they can expect is high-sounding rhetoric giving lip-service to past American foreign policy ideals (freedom for all, democracy, etc) with little or no action. As Ajami points out, there is no intent to live up to the rhetoric; the intent is to stay above it all. He calls it a “cold-blooded” foreign policy in which America withdraws, for the most part, from the world and takes more of an observer’s role. As for all that high minded rhetoric read or listen to any Obama speech on foreign policy and you’ll hear it. But Hillary Clinton provides the ground truth of the situation when she said, “Ideology is so yesterday”.

This administration has no real interest in the foreign policy agenda. But it can’t really admit that, since, as we all know, foreign policy is one of the primary jobs of the chief executive. However anyone with the intellect of a sand flea has been able to discern that this president’s interests are found more in the domestic agenda than the foreign policy agenda.

With year one drawing to a close, the truth of the Obama presidency is laid bare: retrenchment abroad, and redistribution and the intrusive regulatory state at home. This is the genuine calling of Barack Obama, and of the “progressives” holding him to account. The false dichotomy has taken hold—either we care for our own, or we go abroad in search of monsters to destroy or of broken nations to build. The decision to withdraw missile defense for Poland and the Czech Republic was of a piece with that retreat in American power.

In the absence of an overriding commitment to the defense of American primacy in the world, the Obama administration “cheats.” It will not quit the war in Afghanistan but doesn’t fully embrace it as its cause. It prosecutes the war but with Republican support—the diehards in liberal ranks and the isolationists are in no mood for bonding with Afghans. (Harry Reid’s last major foreign policy pronouncement was his assertion, three years ago, that the war in Iraq was lost.)

As revolution simmers on the streets of Iran, the will was summoned in the White House to offer condolences over the passing of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Montazeri, an iconic figure to the Iranian opposition. But the word was also put out that the administration was keen on the prospect of John Kerry making his way to Tehran. No one is fooled. In the time of Barack Obama, “engagement” with Iran’s theocrats and thugs trumps the cause of Iranian democracy.

As we’ve discussed many times, this is a man who wants to have it both ways. His “strategy” for Afghanistan wasn’t to do what was necessary to win the war, but what was necessary to win over most of his critics while still appeasing most of his base. In the case of his foreign policy, “engagement” is simply a device used to give the appearance of doing something while, in reality, doing (and accomplishing) very little.

In the Darwinian anarchy that is the world, leaders of the various tribes notice any weakness in those who’ve assumed leadership. And they instinctively exploit it. What 2009 has done is serve notice that the United States is a weaker nation to all those who want that and will take advantage of it. What 2010 will most likely bring is the expected exploitation of that situation. What forms or in what fashion that exploitation will occur is anyone’s guess at the moment (although astute observers will be able to point to probable actors and actions), but as Ajami points out with his little parable about Lebanon and Syria – reality is already adjusting the actions of the players, and not at all to the advantage of the United States or peace throughout the world.



15 Responses to Obama’s Emerging Foreign Policy

  • It was obvious when Obama appointed the foreign policy wonk and chief opponent in the race, Hiliary Clinton as Secretary of State that he had no ambitions in foreign policy.  Of course, if the 2010 elections blow his domestic world apart, he like so many before him will drop back to a foreign policy role.

    • except most of the people before him were fairly competent, I mean, they’d had real jobs most of them, and accomplished something BEFORE becoming President of the United States.   The Messiah has done?  What?  Exactly?

  • Yeah, I think Ajami (for whom I have enormous respect) hits some good points, but that he misses the point.  Obama seeks to immerse himself in the world, as a world-historical figure, even as he repudiates American exceptionalism and the vitally important role that America has played in the world since WWII and which was reinitialized at the end of the Cold War. The only thing that Obama regards as exceptional about America is Obama.
    In order for Obama to get to this station (the Finland Station of his emerging world-historical personage) he must play to “the world,” which means playing to all the Leftish conceits “the world” has been coached into believing about and wanting from America by people like Obama.
    Reality is very different however. In that strange land, reality, where Obama is a stranger, the American role as status quo superpower and guarantor of strategic peace, and honest broker, requires American self-confidence and American strength.

    • playing to all the Leftish conceits
      I know a few folks who voted for Obama just so the cynicism of these “Leftish conceits” could be finally played out.   I think this is, in part, why the Left is so POed about Obama at this point.
      Personally, I thought that electing Obama wasn’t worth the satisfaction of watching all those “Leftish conceits” die one by one, but time may yet prove me wrong.

  • In The Zimmerman Telegram, Tuchman discusses at some length Wilson’s determination to not allow foreign affairs to interfere with his domestic agenda.  Her description of Wilson reminds me very much of the current occupant of the Oval Office: an arrogant, bullying, “intelletual”* control freak who stubbornly clinged to an unrealitic view of the world and various actors in it to the point of freezing out anybody who dared to contradict him.  Unfortunately for Woody, foreign affairs (Mexico, Japan, the minor unpleasantness in Europe) just kept intruding despite his best efforts to ignore them or “solve” the problems by fiat.

    Wilson finally was forced to recognize that Germany was uninterested in the sort of peace he so longed to broker when he was tipped off to their attempts to plot with Mexico and Japan against us.  It remains to be seen if Imeme will have a similar epiphany about islamofascists, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or the other bad actors we are dealing with today.  I rather doubt it.  Quite aside from the fact that his principle agenda items have to do with remaking our economy into a liberal (socialist) utopia, he’s too lazy to really care unless and until he has to, and even then his response will be to mouth a few platitudes from his teleprompter before going back on vacation.


    (*) Unlike Imeme, Woody actually DID have intellectual creds beyond his supporters’ say-so.

    • well lets hope that Obama does not become another Wilson, considering that Wilson was the closest we ever came to an actual fascist dictatorial takeover.

      • I’d argue that FDR was much, much closer to being dictator than Wilson. Putting citizens into camps via EO, for example. And the whole New Deal thing, banning gold via EO, being elected 4 times until he finally died.

    • I haven’t specifically studied Wilson, but in reading “Castles of Steel” it appeared as if the final decision by Wilson was drivin by the realization that he could not trust Germany, and hence a possible German defeat of England with the result that Germany would become the formost naval power could not be allowed to occur. It does not seem to me that Obama would apply this line of reason . . .

      • You’re exactly right: after being pounded with the evidence of the Zimmerman telegram that Germany absolutely was NOT trustworthy, Wilson finally abandoned his foreign policy that was built on the premise that they WERE trustworthy.  And here’s a little tidbit about Woody that indicates just how stubborn he was in this belief:

        Right at the start of the war, the British cut Germany’s trans-Atlantic telegraph cables, making it impossible for the German ambassador in Washington to communicate directly with Berlin.  Wilson eventually agreed to allow the Germans to use the US cable… without demanding that the Germans hand over their cyphers so we could verify that the traffic they sent was about Wilson’s peace efforts and not something nefarious (like efforts to forment revolution in Mexico or get the Mexican government to ally with Germany against the United States).

        I think that’s what really got to Wilson: NOT that the Germans really weren’t interested in his peace deals, but rather that they made a fool of him.

        The fool.

  • I actually could welcome such a foreign policy if it were genuine. But it is not. If it were genuine then we could start pulling our troops out of places they have been for several generations and are doing nothing whatsoever except costing us a lot of money.
    We would also put our so called allies on the spot, and let them know that they better grow up because they can no longer look for Uncle Sap to bail them out all the time.
    But, unfortunately, like everything else these leftists do, it is half-assed, and as such doomed to fail.

    • A hands off policy will not work; it was much more possible before when England did the heavy lifting. Now, we are engaged and must remain so.

      This does not mean that each and every war should involve us, but it does mean we are a global actor, and must remain on the world stage. It leaves open what exact involvements we should have, Iraq? Kosovo?, etc.

  • One of the things that worries me now about the climate debate is that the counter-narratives are drifting in a lot of different directions. That’s not a bad thing, but I think that much of the focus must remain on one central fact.

    Global warming was presented as a dramatic and unprecedented uptick in global temperatures due to human influence since c. 1850.

    The fact is that it wasn’t dramatic or unprecedented and the human influence is sketchy.

    There’s been some warming. It is nothing unprecedented. It came after the Little Ice Age of app two/three centuries duration, when things got quite cold. It is not as warm as the Medieval Warm Period, when the Greenland cap receded and Vikings settled on usuable land, thereafter driven off by subsequent cooling and re-icing.

    We know about climate change that climate changes. Glaciers don’t simply recede, they advance. Which of those is preferable, given that they never stay put?

    Again, we are in the Holocene, for about the last ten thousand years coming out of the depths of an ice age when mile-thick glaciers covered much of North America. Where we are now is called an “inter-glacial period,” usefully implying where the other direction leads. And this ten thousand year warming has been much warmer than it is now, most recently in the aforesaid Medieval Warm Period.

    I’m very tired of the AGW hoax, and that’s what it is. But I suggest that the next time someone uses the term “denier” to put you in the same category as a Holocaust denier because you know that the skeptics’ case has prevailed, that you have a response prepared that will shame said person or persons, if they are capable of shame.

    • Well, that somehow got into the wrong thread. I cut and pasted it into the global warming thread, but the paragraph breaks got left out. Anyway, it’s easier to read here.

      Happy New Year!