The Ruins of Obama’s Catastrophic Foreign Policy

President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria and ISIS, September 29, 2015

President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria and ISIS, September 29, 2015
Wikimedia Commons/

No American president in my lifetime has had a foreign policy that has been as complete and total a failure as that of Barack Obama. Every foreign affair problem he has touched has turned to worms. The failures have mounted to such an extent that the very existence of our country is threatened. Most Americans would probably consider my last sentence to be extreme hyperbole, but taking a look at each of the threats against us, I can not see how the threats against us could be judged as anything less than existential.

The Threats to Our Existence

The first and most important of the threats  arrayed against us is the alliance of Russia, China, and Iran. Each of these nations is a threat all by itself, but allied in a de facto alliance, they become significantly more dangerous. Each is a revisionist state looking to increase their power as regional suzerains. Russia wants the erstwhile possessions of the dissolved Soviet Union; China wants possession and control of the South and East China Seas, together with the islands on them; and Iran wants control of the Middle East, and perhaps ultimately of the world as the dominant power of an international Imamate. Together, however, they can aid each other in the furtherance of their goals. Russia, for example, has come to the aid of Iran in maintaining the power of Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria. As a benefit of this aid, Russia maintains a permanent naval base in Tartus, Syria and the Hmeymim air base at Latakia. Both of these bases represent threats to NATO’s southeastern flank and to U.S. and European interests in the Middle East.

Both Russia and China possess nuclear weapons and ICBMs to carry them, and Iran is sure to get them in the near future despite the limitations of its recent nuclear agreement with the West. Even more ominous is the Russian rebuilding of their nuclear arsenal, despite the desires of President Obama for pursuing the elimination of nuclear weapons. Someone apparently forgot to tell the Russians the Cold War is over, as they appear to be halting their own reduction in nuclear arms and returning to the old Cold War habit of nuclear bluster to deter what they view as their western enemies. In fact it is even worse than during the Cold War. Quoted in the U.S. Naval Institute News, Nikolai Sokov, a specialist in Russian nuclear strategy, said that Russia threatens to use nuclear weapons against any major power trying to get in their way in a regional conflict. Not only that, but they are violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev back in 1987. That treaty was supposed to eliminate all intermediate range ballistic missiles with ranges between 300 and 3400 miles. Whatever happened to the Obama-Clinton “Russian Reset” program?

In the meantime both Russia and China have been developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) for use as ICBM warheads. Such warheads

Hypersonic reentry of an HGV

Hypersonic reentry of an HGV
Image Credit: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

could both increase the range of the missiles and add a maneuverability for the warhead to evade Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) countermeasures. These kinds of warheads are designed to travel faster than five times the speed of sound or Mach 5. The HGV shown in the illustration was a U.S. attempt at an HGV that was supposed to travel at Mach 20, but has not had any successful test flights. Both the Chinese and the Russians have had at least some successful test flights of a Mach 10 vehicle, with the Chinese having been much more successful.

And then there is the threat of Muslim jihadism against all of Western civilization. This threat comes to us not just from the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS, or ISIL, or Daesh, whichever acronym you fancy), but also there is still al-Qaeda, and don’t forget the Shiite version of jihadism in Iran. The historical development of ISIS is particularly instructive of how Obama’s policies seize defeat from the jaws of victory.

After the U.S. invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein, Hussein’s surviving Baathist officers, all Sunnis, organized the Sunni Arab resistance to the Americans in an organization called “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. This was the organization that was destined to become ISIS, or the Islamic State. While Americans still fought in Iraq, they persuaded Sunni tribal leaders to side with the U.S. in a development called the Sunni “Great Awakening” of Anbar province. The assistance of the Anbar Sunni Arab tribes, together with the surge in U.S. forces, led to the decisive defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq, at least for the time of Bush’s administration.

However, Obama came to power and decided no matter what, he was going to completely withdraw all American forces from Iraq at the earliest opportunity. It must be admitted this was very much in obedience to the zeitgeist of the times, and he would have faced a great amount of political resistance had he decided otherwise. Nevertheless, once Obama completely withdrew the U.S. armed forces from Iraq, events went downhill for the Americans and the Iraqi opponents of the Sunni jihadists. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, unopposed by American military might or by a politically and militarily inept Baghdad government, had a “Great Re-Awakening” of their own to become the even more brutal ISIS. In the process, ISIS declared they were a world-wide caliphate to which every true Muslim owed allegiance, and began a struggle not only to expand the territory they controlled in Iraq and Syria, but to diversify and build up their control in other parts of the world. In addition to their territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has official branches in Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and  Afghanistan. Groups aspiring to become parts of the ISIS caliphate can be found in Mali, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

If only Obama had kept U.S. troops in Iraq for a time longer, they could have prevented ISIS from re-seizing Anbar province to start an international Muslim holy war that today no one in the West can avoid.

Barack Obama’s Isolationism

It should be obvious from Barack Obama’s behavior  when he first came to office that he very much wanted to withdraw the United States as much as possible from the world stage, so that his government could concentrate on domestic programs. In addition, as with most progressives, he was convinced that much, if not most, of what is wrong in international affairs was the fault of the United States acting in an imperial manner. Hence, early on in his administration, we were treated to the view of what the Wall Street Journal called his “international confession tour”.

He told the French that toward Europe, America “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive”. In London, Latin America, and Egypt he expressed similar mea culpas, seeming to project a moral equivalence between the United States and its adversaries. In a secret cable published by Wikileaks, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan told Obama that the Japanese government did not want the President to visit Hiroshima to make an apology for the U.S. having dropped a nuclear bomb on the city to end World War II. As with many on the political Left, President Obama seems to believe that more often than not the U.S. is the villain in international affairs and should withdraw from those affairs as much as possible. That is, we should withdraw except for being a supplicant for forgiveness for some “crime” or other and offering reparations.

The Decay of Our Alliances and Armed Forces

The chickens are now coming home to roost  for both Obama and the United States. In my posts U.S. Alliances: Will They Last? and The Weakening of U.S. Alliances and National Security, I worried how U.S. security treaties from the past 70 years might fray from Obama’s neglect.  Especially in the second post I noted all three members of the Russia, China, and Iran Axis are probing the peripheries of our allies’ security interests. If we do not back them up, they may decide they would be safer under the Axis than as an ally of the United States.

Now, only a half year later since I wrote those posts, we see both the Philippines and Malaysia trying to reposition themselves as allies of China.  In the post As Obama’s Clock Winds Down, Revisionist Powers Pounce on the American Interest website, Walter Russell Mead notes

… what isn’t murky at all is that President Obama’s faltering foreign policy has taken another serious hit. It is hard to think of another American president whose foreign policy initiatives failed as badly or as widely as Obama’s. The reconciliation with the Sunni world? The reset with Russia? Stabilizing the Middle East by tilting toward Iran? The Libya invasion? The Syria abstention? The ‘pivot to Asia’ was supposed to be the centerpiece of Obama’s global strategy; instead the waning months of the Obama administration have seen an important U.S. ally pivot toward China in the most public and humiliating way possible.

All around us, we can observe the ruins of Obama’s foreign policy.

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