President Obama's Strangely Pragmatic Doctrine
Cross-posted from There Will Be War.
It can be really depressing studying foreign policy and international conflicts. It’s mostly bad news. Especially when, in addition to the death, destruction, terrorism and war reporting on mainstream media, you must also study the conspiracy sites. Blogs like The Ugly Truth, which I found off a link on a great foreign policy roundup of blogs. I signed up for the newsletter and the next day received 10 emails of anti-Israel and anti-U.S. propaganda (not necessarily all untrue). Though there are some worthwhile alternative media perspectives among the posts, 10 highly subjective posts in a day is a bombardment. And gratuitous: Commenting on the link to a story about how U.S. sanctions are compromising the safety of Iranian airlines, The Ugly Truth editors noted
ed note–which means that if (when) there is some crash of an Iranian airliner, resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians, more likely than not it will be due to the American (Israeli) sanctions put in place.
Just in case we didn’t see what this post had to do with Israel. Thanks for making your bias so blatant, The Ugly Truth. Another Ugly bias example is the tying of Israel to the Syrian opposition. From what I’ve read, Israel is at worst ambivalent about the somewhat one-sided Syrian Civil War. And I read a lot of different sources. For instance with Syria, Aljazeera English’s website is predictably anti-Assad, Russia Today is mildly anti-U.S. so they support Russia’s position even while they criticize the Kremlin and report on protests. The Economist is capitalist, imperialist and interventionist and The New York Times is, well, getting better.
They no longer just trumpet that “Massacre in Syria blamed on Assad, says everyone”, and try to use vague terms when they don’t know something (like “bloody clash”) instead of just repeating what the Syrian opposition claims (like “civilian massacre”). The Times got a bit of a beatdown, and rightly so, for its reporting on Iran’s nuclear program because it kept substituting “weapon” with what should have been “capability.” As in, it’s been proven Iranians want a “weapon” as opposed to just the capability to build one. Foreign correspondent David Sanger wrote the most egregious substitutions.
And this brings me to the good news. David Sanger’s new book about the Obama foreign policy, Conceal and Confront, came out recently. Guess who was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review this week. The Times writer was getting his book reviewed in the Times about what he wrote about for the Times. This must be a totally objective review, right? No, of course not. But to tell the truth, I didn’t care. I was just so happy that Sanger’s book was not a hatchet job of the President’s record. There are plenty of complaints to level at Obama from both the left—legit concerns like drone strike legality—and the right—mostly bullshit, like Obama’s no friend of Israel—but, like Sanger, I believe that President Obama, aside from the Af/Pak surge, has a strangely decent, pragmatic and limited so-called doctrine.
First of all, to address the Israel criticism, the main reason there was tension between Washington and Jerusalem, was Obama wanted to avoid dragging us into war with Iran. We definitely don’t want to go to war with Iran, because if there were any case at all for it, Mitt Romney would be howling. Republicans don’t want to go into Syria; even John McCain has shut up about it. Hell, we told Turkey not to go to war with Syria.
No politician in the U.S. can sell any more American war. Republicans have shut up about the lack of soldiers left in Iraq, even while Iraq gets closer to teetering on the edge. With soldiers in Afghanistan being blown up or murdered by their allies almost weekly, Obama’s strategically ridiculous decision to surge with 30,000 troops and announce a short-ass withdrawal date at the same time has worked to his political advantage pre-election. Accelerating the withdrawal was cynical yet shrewd.
The other Republican criticism, correct if not utterly hypocritical, has Obama running an imperial presidency. Notice how no one in Congress actually bitched about Obama’s decision to help NATO topple Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, just how he didn’t check with Capitol Hill first. Big deal, every president gets this “overreach” criticism at some point.
Obama is certainly impenetrable to the charge of softie, ordering countless more drone strikes than W. and virtually assassinating quantities of al-Qaeda and Taliban officers. He refused to apologize for a chopper strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, even though Pakistan is a client-ally we need. He ordered the Afghanistan surge and the killing of Osama bin Laden. He hit Iran with the toughest sanctions yet and unleashed a cyberwar on their nuclear program (detailed in Sanger’s book).
Hell, we are sending warships to the Persian Gulf right now. Our defense department’s pivot toward East Asia strategy has led to the an arms race with China, the budding superpower. And this all in one term.
Where Obama’s foreign policy sought restraint was in the Arab Awakening. Well-played! The left attacks him for not acting in some inspirational role with the Egyptian masses and the right attacks for betraying Hosni Mubarak, whom they claim was an ally. He was just a client and a really greedy dictator who started killing his own people when they rallied. That’s why we “betrayed” him, Monica Crowley! Crowley is a racist fear-monger who preaches that Obama would rather see America destroyed than win a second term and that Sharia law is quietly strangling America.
State and Defense had to walk a tightrope through the Mideast revolts, often following a healthy dose of rhetoric with, well, nothing. It was the safest, sanest thing to do in such a complex situation. And of course, Hillary Clinton is meeting with new Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, as well as the leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The rightist critique again fails because Egypt’s Islamists—a veritable Third Reich for Republicans and Fox News—are still off-set by the military, whom the U.S. supported to help keep things status quo. Clinton is asking the SCAF to give power to the President Morsi in public. Both cynical and shrewd again.
As a realist who understands how low our country can sink (from Rumsfeld/Cheney’s Iraq and Iran-Contra to Pinochet), I have such confidence in current foreign policy best practices with regard to this epoch of unstable nations, religious extremism and runaway deficits that should Mitt Romney become president, I bet little will change.
As the Times review of Sanger’s book reads: “But in truth [Obama] has positioned himself nicely within a political sweetspot, one where Americans are loathe to see their country relinquish its premier global position but wary of unnecessary wars undertaken on wispy rationales.”
Michael Quiñones' latest project, a fizzy look at foreign policy predictions, was launched in July 2012 at There Will Be War.