The Wall Street Journal observed on Sunday that President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy is drawing awful reviews from the critics. What critics? “James Steinberg, formerly the President’s Deputy Secretary of State, and Robert Ford, formerly his Ambassador to Syria,” and, delivering the unkindest cut of all, “Hillary Rodham Clinton, formerly his loyal Secretary of State.”
Steinberg said Obama’s decision to provide just limited support to the Kurds, and to direct all other aid through the Iraqi government which has intentionally dragged its feet, “just leaves you scratching your head.”
“Nothing we can point to that’s been very successful,” Ford said of Obama’s approach to the Syrian civil war.
President Barack Obama continues to lack a foreign policy doctrine which guides his approach to crises as they arise. With the best of intentions, the president’s admirers routinely try to rectify this oversight by crafting a doctrine for the president, leading to a variety of aborted experiments and unintentionally humorous episodes. One such attempt to define the Obama doctrine recently resulted in this gem: “Don’t do stupid s**t.”
JFK had “support any friend, oppose any foe,” Reagan had “peace through strength,” Obama has “don’t do stupid s**t.”
Over the weekend, the former secretary of state took a long overdue swing at this imbecilic attempt to construct a doctrinal approach to the practice of foreign relations. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
Clinton accurately called this doctrine a “political message” and “not his world view.” She’s half right: it is a political message – the president’s approach to foreign affairs has always been first and foremost focused on how any action abroad plays at home. But this may just as well be Obama’s worldview as well; he never displayed much interest in statecraft.
It’s not just former administration officials who are dumping all over their old boss. Even The New York Times, which devoted its page one today to an exhaustive look into the crisis in Iraq, cannot but muster a perfunctory implied nod to the “Blame Bush” crowd. The Times’ sources would not play along.
“I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year,” House Foreign Affairs Committee’s leading Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said. “Would ISIS have grown as it did?”
If you forgot, the president backed off a policy aimed at containing the crisis in Syria just one year ago, even after delivering a prime time address to the public designed to shore up domestic support for the move, when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to mediate the civil war with the aim of keeping his client Bashar al-Assad in power. Assad remains in control of Damascus and, one year later, Putin is now in control of the Crimea.
There will be no parachute out of this crisis for Obama, and his Democratic allies know it. As the ship sinks, Obama’s erstwhile allies are saving themselves. It’s an ugly sight, but also a predictable one.