To extricate the United States from the unpopular war he had inherited from his predecessor, President Nixon sold out the South Vietnamese. Yet by simultaneously reaching an accommodation with China, he managed at least one trick: By the time Saigon fell, Nixon had reduced by one the roster of countries that Washington counted as problems or threats. He thereby salvaged a modicum of advantage acutely relevant to the as-yet-undecided Cold War.
Obama is not guilty of consciously selling out a former ally. To extricate the United States from an equally unpopular war that he inherited from his predecessor, he merely cut Iraq loose. Perhaps he had little alternative but to do so. Yet in terms of implications, Obama’s actions are much the same as Nixon’s: Iraqi problems are no longer our problems.
Unfortunately, signs of Obama repeating Nixon’s trick — offsetting failure in Iraq by securing compensatory advantage elsewhere — are hard to find. Instead, the roster of countries across the Islamic world that Washington views as problems or threats has grown appreciably.