Most Republicans and conservatives would give Barack Obama a failing grade on foreign policy. So would some of his own advisers. David Francis writes that the lack of preparation and strategy has become painfully apparent over the last few weeks, and has produced an America unable to “dictate the national conversation.” The problem has become so apparent that even some of Obama’s former colleagues are aghast at the situation:
For instance, Vali Nasr, who served as senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke when he was ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this of Obama’s Afghan policies: “Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration’s reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, said this about Obama’s Syria policy: “Obama must realize the tremendous damage he will do to the United States and to his legacy if he fails to act. He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.”
And Rosa Brookes, a former senior adviser at the Pentagon, attacked Obama for his failure to outline a broad, sweeping foreign policy strategy. “The Obama administration initially waffled over the Arab Spring, unable to decide whether and when to support the status quo and when to support the protesters. The United States used military force to help oust Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi, but insisted at first that this wasn’t the purpose of the airstrikes — and without any clear rationale being articulated, the use of force in seemingly parallel situations seems to have been ruled out.”
All three no longer work for the president. But all of their criticisms share one central theme – Obama does not have the personnel in place to outline and execute a broad international strategy. At the heart of this problem is a disconnect between the State Department and the White House’s national security team.
Francis chalks this up in part to the switch at State, but only in part. The Bush administration integrated its national-security team tightly with the President, with key roles going to close, long-time confidantes of the President — Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Although Francis doesn’t mention it, Bush also had plenty of experience watching his father deal with foreign-policy issues while working as his father’s hatchet man, and developed those relationships before taking the job.
In contrast, Obama had nearly no foreign policy experience before being elected President, and it became clear that he hadn’t cultivated the kind of relationships he’d need to tackle it. Susan Rice and Samantha Power worked on his campaign, but Rice went to the UN and Power initially was sidelined after calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” during the 2008 campaign. Francis notes that Hillary got the State job not because of any foreign-policy expertise but because of domestic political considerations. Obama and John Kerry don’t have much more of a relationship, and already seem at cross purposes:
While Egypt moved closer to chaos, Kerry was in the Middle East attempting to restart a long-dormant peace process between Israel and Palestine. On the day of the Egyptian coup, he was on a yacht.
“The State Department has really struggled post-Hillary,” Faust said. Kerry “was born to be a diplomat. He wasn’t born to be a department head.”
The problems in Obama’s foreign policy long predate Kerry’s arrival, however. It’s due to a lack of strategy, a lack of interest, and a passivity that occasionally switches to recklessness, as in the coup Obama and NATO conducted against Moammar Qaddafi, with disastrous results in Libya. US foreign policy has turned entirely reactive, and the situation now in Egypt is just a milder result.
Speaking of which, IBD editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez puts the Obama response to Egypt in perspective — and that of Obama’s entire foreign policy:
Also, be sure to check out Ramirez’ terrific collection of his works: Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, which covers the entire breadth of Ramirez’ career, and it gives fascinating look at political history. Read my review here, and watch my interviews with Ramirez here and here. And don’t forget to check out the entire Investors.com site, which has now incorporated all of the former IBD Editorials, while individual investors still exist.