Wednesday, January 25, 2012

État de l'état

Since 44"s SOTU was more like the 1st of many nat"l TV"d re electile teleprompted maneuvers, may be it's time to like zoom out and czech on the State of Foreign Entanglements au courant.

Three top cats in Daemoneoconia gave up their assessments of 44 so far

Madame VP Foreign and Defense Policy @AEI.

Any short analysis of 44's successes and failures in foreign policy must necessarily be incomplete. Is it enough to weigh his undeniable good judgment in ordering Navy SEALS to take out Osama bin Laden against his vacillation when faced with the Arab Spring? His willingness to face reality vis-à-vis Iran versus his paralyzing missteps in promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue? Surely not. 

But at the heart of what must, by the standards the president set for himself, be judged a failure, is what seems to be 44's worst sin: The president's foreign policy lacks a guiding set of principles. Why surge troops into Afghanistan only to draw them down before the mission is complete? Why condemn Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya for his crimes against his own people and remain almost indifferent to the same crimes when committed by Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Why knock off a dozen al Qaeda terrorists from the air, and release another group from Guantánamo? 

The answer, of course, is politics. Politics matters to any sane politician; but when politics suffers no competition from principle, the nation's foreign policy is rudderless. It is why our allies mistrust us, our adversaries underestimate us, and why we no longer seek to shape a better world, but instead to retreat from it.

Exec Director @ FPI

As 44 seeks reelection, he will likely tout the country's counterterrorism successes under his watch and, in a sop to his base, his ending of the war in Iraq and his efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Although voters in 2012 will be focused primarily on the state of the economy, they should consider who is best suited to defend the country and advance America's interests as commander chief when choosing whether to reelect 44 or bring in 45. 

44th admin does have achievements to point to in the war against al Qaeda and affiliated groups -- the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs chief among them. But the war on terror must remain a focus for the next president, whoever it is. 44, by deemphasizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of deniable covert efforts, has put the country at risk of being drawn back into both theaters because of his unwillingness to finish the job begun by his predecessor. 

So too is the situation with rogue regimes that threaten America and its allies. The West's confrontation with Iran is nearing a critical juncture as Iran approaches a nuclear weapons capability. Syria, Iran's closest ally, is wracked by what many observers now describe as a civil war. The broader Middle East is in turmoil in the wake of last year's momentous developments. North Korea, under the new leadership of Kim Jong Un, still challenges the stability of East Asia. 

Meanwhile, rising and resurgent powers such as China and Russia continue to undermine American interests. 44 has rightfully begun to devote more American diplomatic and military attention to Asia to deal with China's rise, but has pursued a wrongheaded "reset" policy with Russia that does not reflect the true nature of the Russian government, now facing its own popular uprising. On each of these issues, the 44th admin has refused to take assertive action, instead managing on the margins. 

In his first three years in office, 44 has made several correct tactical decisions, but he seems to lack an appreciation of America's unique role in the world and a coherent vision for the use of U.S. power and influence. What the country needs from its next president is a leader who can shape world events rather than be shaped by them. There is little to indicate that this is 44's interest or aptitude. 

Senior Cat @ Brookings Institution

On the accomplishment side of the ledger, credit 44 with a very smart policy in Asia. By taking advantage of China overplaying its hand in the South China Sea and generally unnerving most of the region, 44's administration has reconfirmed the central role of the United States in East Asia. The opening of a new base in Australia is a powerful symbol of America's enduring strategic presence in the region. The opening with Burma obviously has both strategic motives and strategic implications. 

He also has a fairly good record in responding to the Arab Awakening. 44's administration has fortunately ignored the "realists'" call for standing by the collapsing dictatorships in the Middle East. (How people can call themselves "realists" when advocating such hopelessly unrealistic policies is a source of wonderment.) In Egypt, especially, while the reaction to events has sometimes been slow, the administration has generally moved in the right direction. 44 deserves particular credit for not joining in the general panic at the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood. The operation in Libya was a success. The growing international pressure on Basha al-Assad in Syria is encouraging -- but eventually the United States will have to do more.

More generally, 44 has made steady moves in support of democracy. After treating it like a dirty word in its first year and a half, the administration has returned to a pro-democracy posture not only in the Middle East, but also in Russia and Asia. Given that the political evolution of countries in these regions will have a direct bearing on the international strategic situation and on the nature of world order in the coming years, this has been an eminently "realistic" approach.

As for setbacks, topping the list is44's failure to work out an agreement with Iraq to maintain a U.S. troop presence beyond the end of 2011. This has been a disaster and may prove to be one of the gravest errors of 44's first term, for which either he or his successor will pay a high price. If Iraq unravels into sectarian warfare, it could easily suck other regional powers into the conflict -- especially Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Just as importantly, it would set back democratic progress in the region. Iraq is almost as much an anchor in the Arab world as Egypt. The decision to give up on the admittedly difficult negotiations with the Iraqis was clearly motivated by White House's desire to run on "ending" the war in Iraq. This was as unnecessary as it was unwise.  

The decision to allow deep cuts in defense spending -- rather than addressing entitlements -- is equally irresponsible. Here the 44th admin and Congress are both to blame. But 44's team has compounded the problem by elaborating a budget-driven defense strategy that is not commensurate with American strategic goals and interests. It is ironic that 44 is adopting Donald Rumsfeld's defense strategy -- high tech, light footprint. 

We will find, as we did in 43's years, 42's years, and in many previous decades, that drones and missiles can only go so far in preserving American interests. If not reversed, the deep cuts looming in defense will go a long way to undermining the U.S. position in the world. They will even undercut the 44th admin's efforts to make the United States a more reliable player in Asia, despite its unconvincing protestations to the contrary.

Pic - "In the end, you can’t help but feel American strategy is adrift, with Team 44 presiding over our decline as a world power. Great time for the president to make the case to the contrary — if that’s possible."


Raedwulf said...

You make some excellent points. May I add another? 44's to abdication of influence in Latin America. He may not be able to stop the Iranian president from touring Latin America. He may not be able to stop Hugo Chavez from destroying Venezuala or Daniel Ortega from reversing democracy in Nicaragua. That does not mean that he should not make an effort to combat this with an active U.S. diplomatic offensive to sway Latin America towards our side.

Schenck said...

On Why Qaddafi & not Asad?,
I think it's pretty reasonable. Asad's regime is far stronger that wacky qaddafi, and it's supported by Iran, so action on Syria would quickly escalate into a region wide open conflict. Which might be necessary, but I doubt most people would advocate it, heck, most Americans would probably reject going in basicaly a longer, dirtier, and nastier Iraq War over Syrian sunnis (and with the Syrian christians, paradoxically enough, against us and with the regime).
Also, given that O's Odyssey in Libya was /wildly/ successful, seems an overall win for him.

On "Why knock off a dozen al Qaeda terrorists from the air, and release another group from Guantánamo? "
Not to clear on the specifics here, but clearly you can release prisoners while the war goes on.

" in a sop to his base, his ending of the war in Iraq and his efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan. "
Lets be realistic, if "people for whom the Iraq War and Afghan Adventure are unpopular" is Obama's base, then he's guaranteed re-election, since pretty much everyone's sick of them.
Indeed, Libya shows, perhaps, how the Iraq War /should have/ gone. Imagine if Bush'd been able to do that? And then followed up with Syria and then a more involved war in Iran? And thereby forced democratic reform in the Gulf, with the embryonic revolts in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt arriving years sooner? If only he'd /thought out/ what he was doing better.

I really think that that shows what foreign policy is like when there's no principles guiding it, a lot of us thought that Bush was really going to Bush for democracy in the region, but he didn't, he just got bogged down in Iraq. Hell he even called off the hunt for Bin Laden and gave metric shit tons of cash to the Pakistanis. /Thats/ the course a rudderless ship of state takes.
Obama's foreign policy seems to be guided more be realism.

"lthough voters in 2012 will be focused primarily on the state of the economy, they should consider who is best suited to defend the country"

Indeed, we're still at war in Afghanistan, when you're at war, that should be the #1 election consideration. I really have a hard time beleiving Gingrich would be at all effective as CiC, in fact I think he'd be /worse/ than Bush ended up being, more involved and more blundering. And Romney is probably less inclined to go to war than Obama. He'd've probably done nothing vis-a-vis Libya.

"by deemphasizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of deniable covert efforts, has put the country at risk of being drawn back"

Seems a poor criticism. Anyone on the republican side would be spending more troops and more money on those theatres, and probably acheiving less results. Obama really needs to be given credit for upping SF use in those theatres and ramping up the drone wars, which are extremely unpopular amoung democrats. If the worst Obama can do is muck things up so that we have to 'surge' in afghanisan or send troops back into Iraq (which happened to the Brits after their Mesopotamian war), then that beats the alternative candidates, who'd surge today and surge tomorrow.

"to finish the job begun by his predecessor. "
Iraq's finished. You honestly can't claim things would be terribly different given another five years. Even Afghanistan probably won't be any different (put geopolitics requires us to stay there if nothing else)

"the 44th admin has refused to take assertive action, instead managing on the margins. "
Considering that Putin is a lunatic, that's probably a good idea. Let (another) internal coup overthrow (another) 'soviet' dictator. And, again, what would any of the alternative candidates do differently? If the best Romney can do is /increase/ hostilities between us and Russia; well that's not an alternative. Reagan's admin was the one that saw glasnost and perestroika through, no?

Schenck said...

"This was as unnecessary as it was unwise."
Screw that, if the Iraqi State can't hold itself together after all this time, then let it fall, let it get broken up, and lets deal with someone that has some pull. And that doesn't mean 'Iran" any more that it does with the current Iraqi government, astoundingly!

"It is ironic that 44 is adopting Donald Rumsfeld's defense strategy "
Rummie wanted a rapid reaction force and pushed through things like the Strykers, Obama isn't doing anything like that. Its a realistic draw down that leaves us with a bigger military budget than, what, the next 10 military budgets combined?! And if the Pacific is so important, then leaving Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan will let us boost up in the Pacific and remain a Pacific power.