Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's Not Just about Obama He Faces Failed States Abroad and Failed Politics at Home

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

It's Not Just about Obama He Faces Failed States Abroad and Failed Politics at Home

Article excerpt

There has been a festival of commentary of late bemoaning the pusillanimous foreign policy of President Barack Obama. If only we had a president who rode horses shirtless, wrestled a tiger or took a bite out of a neighboring country, we'd all feel much safer. Your Honor, I rise in - partial - defense of Mr. Obama.

Let me start by asking a question I've asked about other countries: Is U.S. foreign policy today the way it is because Mr. Obama is the way he is (cerebral, cautious, dispassionate) or is Mr. Obama the way Mr. Obama is on foreign policy because America is the way America is today (burned by two failed wars and weakened by a great recession) and because the world is the way the world is (increasingly full of failed states and enfeebled U.S. allies)?

The answer is some of both, but I'd put more emphasis on the latter. Foreign policy, our ability and willingness to act in the world, is about three things: interests, values and leverage. Do we have an interest in getting involved in Syria or Crimea, are our values engaged, and - if either is true - do we have the leverage to sustainably tilt things our way at a price we can afford? Leverage is a function of two things: the amount of economic and military resources we can bring to bear and the unity of purpose of our partners on the ground and our allies elsewhere.

A lot of what makes America less active in the world today is a product first of all of our own diminished leverage because of actions taken by previous administrations. The decisions by the Bush I and Clinton teams to expand NATO laid the seeds of resentment that helped to create Putin and Putinism. The Bush II team not only presided over two unsuccessful wars, but totally broke with American tradition and cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for those wars, weakening our balance sheet. The planning for both wars was abysmal, their execution worse and too many of our "allies" proved to be corrupt or used our presence to prosecute old feuds.

Anyone who thinks that the American people didn't notice all this, please raise your hand. As someone who wanted us to partner with Iraqis to try to build a democracy there - in the heart of the Arab world after 9/11 - I sure noticed, and I learned several things: Where we have real partners, who share our basic values and are ready to fight for them themselves - like the Kurds, who have built an island of decency that is the great unsung success story of the Iraq war - limited U.S. help can go a long way. Indeed, has anyone noticed that the two biggest reform successes in the Muslim Middle East today - Tunisia and Kurdistan - are places where our recent involvement was nil. They wanted it, and they built it.

But where our allies are either too few or too divided - Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq - it requires deeper and longer U. …

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