Tag Archives: Obama’s foreign policy

A grim anniversary


Fourteen years after a massive and highly sophisticated attack on multiple critical targets in the United States from a foreign invader, the outlook is grim:
The instantaneous rally of the American people in one voice after 9/11 demanding retribution and assurance of no repetition of these catastrophic events has been replaced with a cacophony of bickering about a confused and indecisive foreign policy.
The immediate response of the George W. Bush Administration to destroy the model for any sanctuary providing a base from which any such future attack might result has ended in two contentious, indecisive wars.
The possibility of a similar sanctuary being provided to new jihadists with the same intent not only cannot be ruled out, but in fact, seems almost inevitable given the continuing growth of radical Islam and new terrorist movements employing our own and most novel techniques for social interchange.
Mobilization for what must be seen as a long and complex war against Islamic extremism is beset with contradictory and failing effort. Perhaps most of all, there is a failure to identify correctly the ideological enemy as was done through an intellectual mobilization parallel to the arms buildup during The Cold War.
Worst of all is that even critics of current policies and failures suggest wholly inadequate remedies, if at all, such as Gen. David Howell Petraeus’ proposal that we play one Islamic terrorist faction against another, presupposing intelligence and Machiavellian prowess current U.S. leadership does not have.
This failure to cope with the continuing threat to the U.S. with a studied withdrawal from leadership wherever possible has led to a virtual breakdown of the post-colonial Arab and Muslim political structures. And that has led to a massive movement of displaced persons toward refuge in Europe. Their acceptance, however justified on humanitarian and economic grounds [with the catastrophic decline in Western birthrates and its labor force], is fraught. It is far from clear that post-Christian Europe, with its inability to muster a dedication to a new civic culture, including a failing European Union, can withstand this erosion of its traditions that will come with the onset of this new Muslim totalitarian infusion.
It is possible, of course, perhaps even likely, that the American people will reverse course in 2016, with a new visionary leadership. That happened, of course, after an earlier period of disenchantment and despair, with the arrival of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s leadership was more psychological and emotional than highly evolved economic and political strategies despite all the attributes now accorded his rallying leadership.
That may not be necessary again. The U.S. is still the overwhelmingly superior power on the world stage with no likely immediate competitor. It still has abundant resources, and above all, a capacity for technological breakthroughs, that makes it possible to once again lead the kind of struggle against Islamic terrorism which eventually caused the Soviet Union to implode. But we are dealing with an old, if reactivated, enemy that always lurks inside the broader aspects of one of the world’s most important religions and its 1.3 billion nominal adherents.
Nor will abandoning “leading from behind” for a new leadership role work wonders quickly. The losses of the past decade will not be accommodated quickly, and to do so will require leadership and a new civil spirit to follow it that is not yet visible in American public life or in the beginnings of the campaign for the new presidency. Candidate Donald Trump may play on the long simmering frustrations and appetite for change, but he does not nor is he likely to provide the kind of informed leadership that is required.
There will be a great deal of oratory during the next few hours recalling the 9/11 tragic circumstances. But the country still awaits a clear and resounding call for a new understanding of our problems and a dedication to overcome them.
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Transformation of U.S. foreign policy


Barack Hussein Obama, with a group of largely ideologically primitive amateur policymakers but skillful media manipulators, set out in 2008 with the stated purpose to “transform” the American Republic. Although their emphasis was more related to domestic issues, their goals also required a linked fundamental reorientation of American foreign policy.

With the prospect that in a few days, another defeat in Congressional midterm elections will severely limit his further initiatives in the remaining two years of the Obama Administration, it must be acknowledged that at least temporarily Obama & Co. have succeeded in their overall aims in the international arena.

That is a stark contrast to the domestic scene where most Obama policies have either failed spectacularly or are in a state of continued dispute in the face of, however eroded, traditional values, the weight of inertia, and that incredible American entrepreneurial utilization of technology. In energy, for example, perhaps the most important ingredient of economic policy, the technological breakthroughs in the exploitation of gas and oil – the shale gas revolution – have completely upended Obama’s energy strategy. Not only is the outlook for fossil fuel reserves, worldwide as well as domestically, been completely changed, but the always volatile energy costs now appear headed for a long period of falling real prices. Obama’s attempt to stampede the U.S. economy into highly government subsidized so-called alternative sources of energy are in shambles – at an untold cost to the taxpayer, or course.

The Obamaites have been far more successful in their pursuit of a dramatic reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. It remains to be seen, of course, whether those initiatives are a permanent feature of the international scene. But, for the moment at least, Obama has accomplished his goals: Gone largely is continuing recognition of Washington’s post-World War II leadership of the coalition of allies which not only won the greatest war in history against the Nazis and Japanese militarists but also outran the threat of another totalitarian enemy, Soviet Communism.

The Obama view was that in the half-century-plus of Washington world leadership, if not in its longer history including slavery, America had made too many mistakes, that its worldwide dominance was on balance deleterious, that a better role would be one of, at most, primus inter pare. Furthermore, reaching out rhetorically to former perceived victims of American actions would be a pathway toward peace and stability. In short, what he and his colleagues saw as a more compassionate and understanding American executive could go far in curing the world’s problems rather than using its power to help stabilize the world scene. [Never mind their dismissal if remarked at all of the enormous extension of aid to the world over previous decades.]

To a considerable extent, Obama – with the aid, however reluctant she now says, of his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton – has been able to achieve these policies.
But the daily headlines also tell us that the goals of this strategy has not been achieved in any quarter of the globe. But to the contrary, the world has hardly ever been in such disarray with or without an activist U.S. leadership.

Two points need to be made quickly:

The Obama Administration and its policies are not responsible for most of the world’s political problems, misgovernment and violence. It did inherit what despite one of the longest periods of peace in Europe’s history with its overwhelming influence on world affairs, was a volatile world scene. In short, the world is the jungle it always was. And recent events have shown us political movements demonstrating the ugliest aspects of human nature, too, are still with us. In short, it is clear that no farseeing American strategy could have done more than ameliorate the world scene, as some of us would argue it did for some six decades.

Secondly, the history of ideas suggests that Obama’s international perspective did not spring like Athena fully formed and armed from Zeus’ forehead. Obama’s theories of international relations rely heavily on that strong undercurrent of American thinking which always sought to minimize our exposure to the rest of the world’s problems.

That was the case, rather successfully throughout most of the 19th century with the help of His Majesty’s British Navy, and the God-given geographic isolation that two oceans afforded the U.S. [One has to recall, for example, that only a little over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, legislation for extension of universal military service passed the House of Representatives by only one vote] Not only was that complicated concept, generally dubbed “isolationism”, part and parcel of American political thinking from the beginning of the Republic, but its supporters in more recent past have included a wide swath of supporters across the political spectrum from “Prairie radicals” to the complex sympathies of the warring parties in the U.S. electorate. [Pacifist and Socialist Norman Thomas sat on the same “America First” – the most active of prewar isolationist organizaions — platform with members of the pro-Nazi German American Bund in Yorkville in 1940.]

Still, the list of successful “accomplishments” of the Obama strategy to diminish America’s role in international affairs is long.

• By abandoning the deployment of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, arduously negotiated, Washington not only dealt American missile defense a body blow but awakened the old threat of decoupling European security from America’s worldwide strategies.

• The refusal to lead the alliance which overthrew Qadaffi in Libya resulted not only in the tragic and ignominious death of an American ambassador and three other Americans but is leading to an anarchic situation there – with its threat to Egypt and the rest of North Africa and oil markets – with possible jihadist ascendancy.

• An amorphous position toward the U.S.-Israeli alliance, despite pro forma statements to the contrary, emboldened jihadist Hamas and further diminished the possibility of a Palestinian negotiating partner for an accommodation between the Jewish state and the Arabs.

• The refusal to lead a Western alliance in support of Ukraine against the Hitler-tactics of infiltration and puppetry of Russia’s Vladimir Putin has not only diminished the fragile Kyiv government but put into question the guarantees of the NATO alliance to its Central and Eastern European members.

• Neither Obama’s ostensibly seminal addresses in Cairo and Istanbul with apologies for pretended insults to Islam by the U.S. and a more than sympathetic reading of the history of Islam have improved relationships with the Muslim world nor diminished the growing Islam;s traditional jihadist elements.

• Courtship of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, apparently a critical part of Mr. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan’s nonconventional view of Islam, has widened the gap with the Egyptian military now ruling what has been the most important Arab country and a leader of the Muslim world and other Arab allies in the Gulf.

• A studied neutral position toward Chinese claims on Japanese occupied territory returned under bilateral postwar agreements to Tokyo and no immediate followup to Clinton’s statement of reorientation of U.S. strategy toward Asia has unnerved traditional Asian allies.

• Continued flirtation with the tottering Communist regime in Havana has encouraged Moscow to try to resurrect its alliance with Castro Cuba, encouraged elaborate Cuban espionage in the U.S., and undermined the continuing dissident democratic movement in Cuba supported by Cuban Americans in the U.S.

It is far from clear that in the kind of volatile world in which we live, the “success” of Obama’s transformation of American policy would not be the object of a concerted reversal by a new administration in 2016. Or, indeed, as despite cryptic language and new names for old crimes [workplace violence for jihadist terrorism], the Obama Administration is now by force majeure is being made to reverse course. The great danger is, of course, as in the present attempt to cope with the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq and Syria, Obama’s half-measures will lead to further disaster.

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Foreign Policy 101


In a revolutionary world environment, foreign policy of a great power – and especially the lone superpower – is bound to be full of inconsistencies. Interests are far-flung and constantly demanding new priorities. But one does not have to refer to Machiavelli to recognize rules of the road which when violated are costly and in the case of the U.S., destabilizing for the entire world.

Again, those guidelines are often internally contradictory in the nature of generalizations.  But a knowledge of and adherence to them is essential to pursue a foreign policy, and, in this instance, of the superpower, the United States, and world peace and stability..

That we living through cataclysmic times does not have to be extensively argued. Suffice it to say that the digital revolution alone has made it harder than ever to distinguish between reality and perception by exaggerating – to quote Sec. Donald Rumsfeld – unknown unknowns. A recent former CIA operative hired by a Swiss bank to prevent fraud put it to me succinctly: the ability to reproduce almost any document [or signature] has led to almost unlimited financial hoax.

In the world of international relations something similar is equally true. But, again, there are basic dictum which are as old, at least, as the European nation-state and apply today as they always have. Many are commonsensical. To be unacquainted with them is to introduce new and additional volatility in an uncertain world.

America’s role Because of its size, its population and continental breadth, and its economy, the U.S. under any conditions would play a major world role — disengaged as well as engaged. But there are important additional nonphysical aspects. The Founders, however conservative their personal backgrounds [with the unresolved problem of black slavery], constructed a new nation on ideology rather than ethnicity, race or language. They believed that they were creating a new and unique beacon of liberty and justice harking back to Greek and Roman institutions as well as a Judeo-Christian ethic.

That, in essence, is “American exceptionalism”. To associate it with such more precise policies as “interventionism” or “isolationism” is to misunderstand completely. All one has to do is hark back to the 1930s debate of America’s world role in which both poles invoked U.S. singularity, whether Midwest agrarian populist isolationists, or East Coast industrial and financial bureaucratic interventionists.

Furthermore, it might not make much difference whether the concept is valid.the fact that it has been accepted as a part of American foreign policy for more than 200 years – however much hypocrisy one might charge – makes it is an important part of any discussion. Perhaps that is why Pres. Barrack Obama had to make the sharpest possible break with his earlier [presumably] offhanded remark in Europe denigrating the whole concept. But he did so now “with every fiber of my being. ” – indeed a turnabout!

America’s tools The most important if the most nebulous of tools in making foreign policy is the prestige of the United States abroad.[So-called opinion surveys, especially those in countries with widespread illiteracy are ridiculous.] More than half a century of overwhelming domination of the world scene, especially the two decades since the implosion of the Soviet Union, have contributed to an overestimate, if anything, of the U.S.’ power and ability to solve problems.

But there is a general talking heads consensus that belief has eroded significantly for whatever reason – policies of the current Administration or the accumulation of debris from two indecisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a welter of unidentified “mistakes” to which Obama has continually referred. That may be true, but that also depends on the strength of American prestige at its zenith, if, indeed, that point is behind us. My own reading from conversations with informed foreign friends at home and abroad is that the belief in American omnipotence, for better or for worse, is alive and well.

If I am correct, then American power arises in no small part from Harvard University’s political scientist and former government official Joseph Nye has called “soft power”. Americans who have not traveled abroad or those who have accepted internationalization of U.S. fashions as the norm are often unaware of how that influence permeates foreign cultures. However, some of the clichéd ideas concerning American influence are equally irrelevant; e.g., the idea that a U.S. education automatically makes a returned foreigner sympathetic to Washington policy. [Some of the most virulently anti-American politicians abroad have been – and continue to be – products of at least a partial American education, a tribute perhaps to our tolerant institutions.]

In the best of all worlds formal U.S. diplomacy would exploit these cultural levers. That is rarely the case. The massive efforts of American propaganda, for example, that accompanied The Cold War have been largely abandoned. Just as it demoralized a more efficient consular service, incorporation of United States Information Service by State has been a disaster. Libraries which once were the most important U.S. cultural activity [aside from American movies] in backward countries have disappeared without an organized digital replacement.

Less difficult to define, of course, are four other major instruments in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations: formal diplomacy, economic warfare, the U.S. military and clandestine espionage and “special” operations.

Unfortunately, over the years, U.S. diplomacy has taken on more and more the attributes of its traditional European model. As it has done so, for the most part, American embassies abroad deal with their counterparts in a bubble to the exclusion of any attempt to cultivate a wider public. [In many countries, with authoritarian governments, of course, this may not be a choice.]

Worse still, U.S. diplomats suffer from what the French call déformation professionelle – if you are a lawyer, your first instinct is to litigate, if you are a surgeon, you instinctively want to cut, etc. And if you ae a diplomat, you first seek to negotiate. But since a successful diplomatic outcome requires compromise, what do you do when your opponent refuses to budge? You  extend unilateral  concessions  to achieve “success”, including abandoning prematurely “the military option”.

Much is made of the fact that U.S. military expenditures are more than the sum of most other major military powers. The argument is fallacious. Unfortunately, our European NATO allies have cut back their military expenditures, too often already eaten away by non-fighting bureaucracies. Or, for example, the French in their desperate pursuit of a policing francophone Africa have had to rely on U.S. transport.

In a sense that the one and only time NATO’s famous Article 5 has been invoked in Afghanistan is unfotunate– answering the 9/11 attack on the U.S. that required all partners to come to a member’s aid.  For the intervention in an siolated pre-industrial soceity was always destined to be inconclusive otherthan t eliminate the immediate source of violence against America’s heartland.

Ironically, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine may have restored some relevance of that concept, for the Europeans if not for a war weary American public.

All that notwithstanding, the mere threat to use U.S. military in a given crisis – what the geopoliticians call “strategic ambiguity” – is perhaps American policymakers’ most potent weapon. A generally quiet if dramatic example has been the guarantees to Taiwan which permitted development of the first democratic and prosperous society in Chinese history. [However, recent Washington foot-dragging on arms and accomodation of the current Taipei government for economic collaboration with the Mainland may have put it in jeopardy.] Were the Chinese Communist to have bases on Taiwan, it would be a game-changer in the increasingly delicate Northeast Asian powder keg with a rapidly accelerating North Korean drive for WSM and an. aggressive Beijing posture.

To name specific conditions and dates when American military power is to be used [or withdrawn] is perhaps the greatest weakness of the current Administration’s foreign strategies. It prepares the ground for the opponent’s counterstrategy. Even worse is to rattle the cage of a potential opponent – whether Pres. Obama with an announced on-and-off “limited blow”, as against the bloody Syrian regime or Defense Sec. Chuck:Hagel’s latest provocative public denunciation of Chinese adventurism while at the same time cutting back military budgets.

Waging the U.S.’ economic weapon is also a mixed bag. International trade has increasingly become a larger part of the U.S. gross national product, producing jobs as well as profits. And because since 1985 there is more foreign investment in America than U.S. equity abroad, the Treasury has had to trim its use as an instrument of foreign policy. A tax structure which has U.S.-based multinationals holdings in the tens of billions in profits stashed overseas also weighs heavily.

Still, Americaneconomic sanctions – especially when they are applied to third parties – can be crippling as Tehran found out before the Obama Administration loosen the bolts as incentive for a hoped for negotiated settlement..

Clandestine American operations abroad are part and parcel of any effective foreign policy. But certain conventions, however false, have to be adhered to. Yes, everyone knows Washington is listening to their mail but to tell the world as Edward Snowden and his pal Glenn Greenwald did is not only to prejudice important sources of information but to raise doubts for those who would want secretly to collaborate with the U.S., including foreign intelligence organizations. It is no secret that because of its superior facilities, Washington quietly has sometimes done “favors” for those allies.

For the White House [it says] to accidentally reveal the name of a station chief is inconceivable; not that in virtually any country there has always been unacknowledged cognizance generally of who he was. [Our old joke was that he could always be identified because he collected “art”, had a wife named “Magda”, and stacked all Praeger’s books in his shelves – and wore U.S. Navy officer shoes.]

Perhaps the most important and incalculable element in the search for an effective foreign policy is political will. When presidential candidate Barrack Obama — whose team showed incredible smarts at manipulating the media so it seems hardly an accident — prominently carried a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World so it could be photographed, friends and enemies got an unmistakable  signal.

Defensive backpedaling, even in front of an audience as important as West Point’s graduation class, will not be enough to avoid new crises through miscalculations, the kind which have brought on most wars. Nor must a policymaker wallow in what used to be called “mirror imaging” – assuming your opponent’s motivations are yours.

After the longest war in U.S. history, Obama is unilaterally calling an end to violence in Afghanistan – and, in fact, to “the war on terror”. Is he so certain a sprinkling of Al Qaeda splinters of increasing sophistication in a half dozen other countries – including their recruiting some of our native-bred — will do the same?

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A world turned inside out


American prestige is now dependent on the swift feet and hard heads of its handicapped soccer team trying to pull off a “U-S-A/U-S-A” miracle in South Africa.  Certainly, nothing substantial is likely to come out of the G20 or a subsequent meeting of the Big Boys, the G8, groupings of the world’s most powerful economies and hangers-on, convened as we go to press. That’s in no small part because the Obama Administration has abdicated the U.S. historic post-World War II economic leadership role as it pursues what the world sees as foolish economic policy.

Washington is, of course, too crises-ridden to take new international economic initiatives – or, in fact, to follow up old ones. The Obama Administration strategy which aims to produce recovery through pump-priming and government-subsidized alternative energy gets short shrift from its Western partners and Japan. They want to set their — and especially everyone else’s — budgets in order. Add that to the failure of Pres.Obama’s pre-conference letter to Beijing, again wheedling China to end currency manipulation. The Administration’s pleading – backed by a protectionist revolt among Congressional Democrats – was been met with confused official and semi-official signals, but in the end, stonewalling. Nor can America’s allies ignore Washington’s refusal to waive the Jones Act, purportedly protecting maritme labor and the desiccated U.S. ship industry, to welcome European skimmers and other help in the BP spill.

On the outer fringes of the world economy, Beijing reflects leadership and policy conflicts as confused if more secret than those in Washington. The Chinese first “vowed” [according to fawning media] to take action to permit its wildly undervalued currency to rise. But then after several days trading, it became obvious Beijing would not — and probably could not — take a disastrous short-term route to help rebalance the world’s currencies. [Beijing’s latest announcement of reduced export subsidies is only the reflection of growing inventories and saturated foreign markets.]

Meanwhile, longer term speculation on eventual massive Chinese reevaluation grows – evidenced by China’s real estate bubble and a casino stock market. Government infrastructure expansion — enough for the next century — absorbing most of the “stimulus” has reached its limits. All of these problems are intensified by all pervasive corruption. [Beijing claims more than 94 billion yuan, $14 billion, in misappropriated public funds was recovered from some 800 officials last year alone.]

Furthermore, as Pres. Obama presses a more and more reluctant Congress to pursue a policy that Maynard Lord Keynes would never have condoned despite the Greek chorus invoking his name, Europe’s relatively solid citizen, Germany, declines. Berlin will not dance with a partner carried away on the strains of unlimited expenditures for the public sector.Germany, itself, is hoisted on a dilemma: its export-driven economy has depended on pushing out goods for Euros which its customers, it turns out, had not actually earned. Greece is only the first of several Euro currency economies who will  come a cropper over drunken sailor debt.

Even were Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree to pick up the burden, German taxpayers would not. And the Chancellor already has her hands full with a complicated political crisis over electing a new president. That’s why the Chinese are said to be worried more about the rapidly the deteriorating Euro than their vast hoard of devaluing dollars.

The only “bright spot” is with Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, like a proper Scotsman taking a meat cleaver to public expenditures. Throwing off suspicions he was “conservative light”, “a Rockefeller Republican”, Cameron has cut public expenditure 25% across the board. But will his Liberal Democrat coalition partners sweat it out long enough for the anticipated long-term results to come home?

With each passing week, world economic problems become more acute. Latest statistics show the bulk of recent international borrowing has been to prop up the Euro, not only against the Greek bailout but anticipating similar credit problems with the whole outer ring of the European Community. It was not for private sector recovery — and jobs, jobs, jobs. In Asia, Beijing’s East Asian partners depend on Chinese assembly operations using slave labor and increasing quantities of imported energy to cling to their export markets. It’s no wonder they have been hit by a wave of “illegal”, unprecedented strikes which Beijing leadership has tried to ignore – perhaps as long as they are foreign-owned firms?

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, like China, are export-led. [Tokyo’s autos and other high tech exports have come back after a second drop last year; $60 billion in May, normally accounting for 10% of the gross domestic product for the world’s second economy.] For different reasons none of these yesterday’s vaunted Tigers are capable of quickly making the dramatic, painful and complex changeover all have promised: to expand their domestic markets reducing reliance on exports to the West. With each passing day, however, it becomes more and more clear that recovery [and return of once halcyon exports markets] in the U.S. and the EU is a lengthening process – and, indeed, the danger of the industrial economies slipping back into recession again is ever present.

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