Revising the Foreign Policy Theory

As improbable as it might seem in retrospect, the theory underlying the Obama foreign policy when it was unveiled during the 2008 presidential campaign was that because of the candidate’s African heritage, Arabic middle name, Muslim schooling, and Messianic persona, “The day I am inaugurated, not only will the country look at itself differently, the world will look at America differently.” Throw in some silver-tongued and culturally relativist rhetoric, a bit of “daylight” between Israel and America, and other assurances that America had abandoned its past racist and imperialist bellicosity, we were assured, and the past millennia-and-a-half of unpleasant would cease. This fanciful notion had an understandable appeal to a war-weary country, but after seven years it requires a bit of revision.
The promised withdrawal from the hated war in Iraq has ceded control of a third of the country to the barbaric Islamic State, with the rest of the country increasingly reliant on the support of Iran, which has lately been backing a successful revolt against the American-backed government in Yemen, which the administration continues to cite as a model of its anti-terrorism strategy, complicating the administration’s efforts to capitulate to all of Iran’s demands in its negotiations over that country’s nuclear weapons program, which has already prompted Saudi Arabia to join a nuclear arms race in this volatile region. The Syrian civil war continues to rage despite the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian dictatorship, which once again crosses the president’s declared “red line,” which was supposed to have been settled through “re-set” relations with Russians, who continue to occupy large chunks of Ukraine and seem ready to grab more land. Libya continues its descent into chaos since being bombed into anarchy by a coalition “led from behind” by America, Afghanistan anxiously awaits the results of another American withdrawal, and Iran continues its reach into Lebanon and Jordan. There’s by now enough daylight between Israel and America to fill an Alaskan summer, enough to have scuttled any chance of a promised peace agreement with the Palestinians, yet our negotiating partners in Iran continue to chant “Death to America” and the rest of the Muslim doesn’t seem any more friendly.
Such a conspicuous gap between between what was promised and what has occurred requires some explanation, even for the most credulous press, so the reporters at Politico dug deep into their rolodexes and found some ambitious unnamed officials who were willing to give it a try. Someone described as a “Senior State Department official” went so far as to say that “If there’s one lesson this administration has learned, from President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech through the Arab Spring, it’s that when it comes to this region, nothing happens in a linear way — and precious little is about us, which is a hard reality to accept.” We are heartened to hear that the administration has learned something over the past six years, and can appreciate how hard it must have been to accept that not everything that happens in the Middle East is about us, given their previous deep-seated beliefs that all the pathologies of the Middle East are entirely America’s fault, but we’re not reassured the right lessons have been learned.
The administration still seems intent on whatever bargain the Iranians might agree to, with a recent Iranian defector saying “the U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf,” although all the linear and non-linear ways that might turn out are catastrophic. Its apologists continue to blame the blame the policies of the previous administration, and by extension the previous 200 years of American foreign that sought to protect the country’s interests, even as they insist it is no longer about us. There is retreat on one front, drone strikes on another, and alliances that seem to mean little in terms of useful support on yet another. There is little reason to believe the administration understands that while events are always beyond America’s control they are rarely beyond its influence, that the more strident passages of the Koran and the Hadith have something to do with conflicts that have been ongoing since long before the founding of the American public, or that the relatively tiny population of Jews in the relatively tiny country of Israel aren’t somehow responsible for the whole mess.
One promise kept has been that the world now sees America differently. The world now sees us as an untrustworthy friend and harmless enemy. Perhaps America also sees itself differently, too, but we hope not.

— Bud Norman

One response

  1. The legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson has is alive and as malignant as ever. Let’s have less wars “to make the world safe for democracy.” Set up a strong defensive position for ISIS to slaughter themselves on. Leave Russia alone in Ukraine because we really don’t have anything to say about it anyway. Do everything short of World War III to prevent Iran from getting the Bomb, but otherwise let them have their sphere of influence.

    We should take advantage of a little piece of human nature: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

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