United States foreign policy has been defined lately by serial failures. Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and appears to be preparing a reprise in eastern Ukraine, and possibly in the Baltic states. Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad is poised to win the civil war in Syria at the cost so far of over 200,000 dead. Negotiations with Iran over its uranium enrichment program have merely emboldened the regime and brought it closer to its goal of a nuclear weapon. And yet another attempt to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs has failed. In all these crises the U.S. has appeared weak and feckless, unable to direct events or achieve its aims, even as its displeasure and threats are scorned. Continue reading “The Perils of International Idealism”→
It’s often hard to determine whether a series of bad policies results from stupidity or malicious intent. Occam’s razor suggests that the former is the more likely explanation,
as conspiracies assume a high degree of intelligence, complex organization, and secrecy among a large number of people, qualities that usually are much less frequent than the simple stupidity, disorganization, and inability to keep a secret more typical of our species. Yet surveying the nearly 6 years of Obama’s disastrous foreign policy blunders, I’m starting to lean towards Goldfinger’s Chicago mob-wisdom: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.”
Obama’s ineptitude started with his general foreign policy philosophy. George Bush, so the narrative went, was a trigger-happy, unilateralist, blundering, “dead or alive” cowboy who rushed into an unnecessary war in Iraq after alienating our allies and insulting the Muslim world. Obama pledged to be different. As a Los Angeles Continue reading “Obama’s Foreign Policy: Enemy Action”→
In the last two weeks, we learned that Bashar Assad has dismantled only 5 percent of his WMD arsenal, despite President Obama’s soaring rhetoric to the contrary. Russia violated a long-observed agreement with the U.S. about testing missiles. Iran’s take on the negotiations over its bomb program bears no resemblance to our interpretation. Chinese officials now happily leak fantastic stories about using their military to punish Japan. All that is trumped by veiled threats from the Sunni Gulf monarchies, terrified of Iran, to buy a bomb or two from Pakistan. We hear other rumors that even China thinks the new leadership in North Korea is unhinged and is not worried about friendly warnings from Beijing.
Whether all these incidents are minor or serious, and whether they are random or interconnected and perceived as proof of the loss of U.S. deterrence, depends on which particular bad actor is studying them to try to guess whether the Obama administration will do anything should a provocateur start a war or attempt to redraw a regional map.
In short, our Icarus-in-Chief, without much foreign-policy experience but with youthful zeal and good intentions, soared far too high for his flimsy waxen wings. Now they are melting, and as the American commander-in-chief careens back to earth, lots of those below are wondering what will come next. Still, there is a lot of irony as Obama freefalls to earth. Continue reading “Our Icarus-in-Chief”→
When — not if — is the only mystery about an Iranian nuclear bomb.
All the warning signs are there.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama on two occasions went out of his way to warn the Iranians that the development of a nuclear weapon “would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East, but around the world.” Obama later added, “It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; it would be a game changer.”
Strong language. And Obama twice this year again used “game changer” in reference to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, warning him not to dare use chemical weapons. In March, Obama announced to Assad that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.” A month later, Obama again warned Assad not to resort to WMD use: “That is going to be a game changer.” Continue reading “‘Game Changers’”→
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way Syria ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper. We are back where we started — lots of people dying — as the crisis recedes with a high five and a sigh, rather than with America blowing some stuff up. Continue reading “Goodbye Syria, On to Iran!”→
I think the so-called Syrian crisis is working out as most anticipated:
1) In about a year or so Assad and Putin will announce that they “think” they might have in theory rounded up a lot of the WMD, and will soon make plans to turn it over to “authorities,” subject to further negotiations. Continue reading “Syria Postmortem”→
The Syrian fiasco arose from two mutually contradictory desires. Barack Obama sincerely wanted Bashar Assad to stop killing his own people. Barack Obama also really was not willing to use force to ensure that Assad would stop killing his own people. At Harvard, those desires would not be antithetical. Elsewhere they are.
The desire to avoid the use of force was understandable. Obama ran for president as an anti-war candidate. He damned Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq, while critiquing the conduct of the “good war” in Afghanistan. He had no success with his own bombing in Libya. And he was embarrassed by even a rhetorical entry into the Egyptian quagmire. The president sensed rightly that the country was “tired” after Afghanistan and Iraq. Continue reading “Obama’s Box Canyon”→
So far in the Syrian charade, Bashar Assad has won de facto permission to be a legitimate ruler negotiating with superpowers, while promising to kill thousands more by blowing them up, shelling them, and shooting them without “obscene” chemical weapons.
Vladimir Putin controls the tempo of the crisis. He now issues new initiatives, now delays for consultations and retrospection — as he steps up profitable arms shipments to the Syrians and Iranians. In short, he is in the short-term “saving” Obama from himself, while in the long term insidiously destroying presidential credibility, influence, and respect by the sheer force of his cunning and audacity, as Obama in terms of foreign influence curls up into a veritable fetal position and wishes it would all just go away. Continue reading “The Charade Can Go On — and On and On . . .”→