Paris, January 22, 2013 -- The overall failure of American foreign policy during the first Obama presidency was foreseeable. Mr. Obama had been a law professor and urban organizer. He took his foreign policy views from reading the newspapers, and he appointed as his advisers and officials figures from past Democratic administrations and the academy, representing the conventional liberal views of the period. Original thinking was not evident. In military matters, he inevitably was the prisoner of the Pentagon.
He declared that he would win the “real” war among the two he inherited from the second Bush administration, the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s was an accidentally acquired American client government, unrepresentative of the ethnic plurality of its population. The Taliban insurgents wanted (and still want) to expel the foreign occupation (as the Afghan people have repeatedly succeeded in doing in the past) and impose an oppressive theocratic regime upon the country’s people, which would be unfortunate for them, but to which the American people would quickly demonstrate their indifference – having their own domestic quarrels.
The second Obama presidency commences with the Afghanistan war scheduled to end by 2015, although the U.S. Command, and surviving Republican neo-conservative believers in the wars of civilizations, want to fight on, as does Afghan President Karzai, whose personal future will be compromised by American withdrawal. But the American caravan moves on, the American people restless with defeats.
President Obama has failed to find a grand strategy, the New York Times writes. Will he find such a strategy in his second term? Not, I should think, if his purpose (as the Times proposes) is to “restore the country’s influence and image” and “redirect world events,” thereby becoming “a transformative president on a global stage.” The last-cited interpretation of the presidential ambition is from Jeffrey A. Bader, a former diplomat who, according to the Times, “was one of the White House architects of the ‘rebalancing’ towards Asia” announced by the first Obama administration.
John O. Brennan, the president’s second-term CIA Director, has been the sponsor of the drone killings that were the most important foreign policy innovation of the first Obama term. In 2012, according to the British Middle Eastern specialist, Patrick Seale, the drones killed 185 people in Yemen, and 470 in Pakistan, as well as 68 identified non-combatants (family, rescuers, by-standers). The victims in Afghanistan are unreported because of the effect of the attacks on political and public opinion concerning the Karzai presidency and the NATO forces deployed in the country. In Pakistan, 74% of those recently polled regard the United States as an enemy nation.
So far as the White House is concerned, the invisibility (to Americans) of the drone attacks are a great asset because few Americans now pay attention to what George W. Bush named “The Great War on Global Terror,” and no Americans are coming home in boxes from the drone campaigns.
The U.S. Air Force’s drone pilots are comfortably installed at seven U.S. airbases (the CIA’s drones are mostly operated abroad), from which they go home to wife and kiddies when duty is done. Their only danger is a drunk driver on the highway. If they are lucky on the duty roster, they’ll be able to watch the Super Bowl.
It seems safe to say that Mr. Obama is not going to become a transformative president by killing a few hundred Islamist Arabs and Pakistanis a year -- and now perhaps Africans, since France’s President François Hollande has opened up the Sahara front. (America is supposed to be the “global security provider,” but France owns Africa.)
Perhaps Asia is where Mr. Obama can earn a place in history, as a “Great Decider” alongside George W. Bush. It’s never been made clear what the “pivot” to Asia has been all about. It’s surely not just to save Australians and New Zealanders from a China threat (better to arm them against the Great White Sharks). One would assume that China is the cause of it, but why? The Chinese are making trouble about their territorial and maritime claims, but these are potentially resolvable by international negotiations or courts and not worth going to war with the United States about.
The Chinese already can claim number one place as global possessor of fiscal reserves, importer of raw materials and European luxury goods, and exporter to the world of clothing and electronics, all of them titles the United States has no reason to wish to wrest from them. So why go to war? Americans and Chinese are both peoples known for their sensitivity to gaining or losing “face”; is that the reason?
What other major foreign issues will confront a second Obama term? Israel and the newly UN-recognized Palestinian state, confined within Israel’s systems of internal walls? President Obama has already indirectly informed the newly-reelected Benjamin Netanyahu that if the Israelis really wish to forcibly impose apartheid upon the Palestinians under their military domination, they can go ahead and earn world reprobation and isolation on their own responsibility. An attack on Iran would also seem something for which Israel would find no American support. An attack by Iran is inconceivable.
At this point, as the Obama inauguration festivities turn to memories, the gowns and dinner jackets (with their Obama-mode white tie dinner jackets) packed away, an apparently bored president may (and perhaps should) settle back in the Oval Office to watch the House Republicans savage one another. His place in American history is already assured.
© Copyright 2013 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.