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.