Goldberg’s landmark essay on 44’s foreign policy shows the impatience, exasperation and utter unseriousness of the Free World's leader
If only America’s stubborn allies removed their blinders, which he attributes to tribalism or spinelessness, they could, like him, see the world for what it is — and resolve their problems on their own. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia might subside if only Riyadh would learn to “share the neighborhood.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict if only he offered greater concessions. Russian adventurism and Chinese bullying might end if only their neighbors demonstrated greater resolve.
The war in Libya might have achieved a more stable outcome if only the Europeans were more “invested in the follow-up.” At the same time,44 voices chagrin that his critics, both foreign and domestic, fail to recognize that some crises are so intractable that U.S. intervention, alas, either would fail to turn the tide or would come at too high a cost. An attack on Syria, he laments, would maroon America in a quagmire. Ukraine, he contends, “is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.”
The opposite of unipolarity is not necessarily multipolarity but chaos. Both, in any event, could amount to the same thing — a phenomenon the Middle East has already begun to witness. As the White House pursues détente with Iran at the expense of Sunni Arab states and continues to abjure a meaningful military commitment in Iraq and Syria, a revanchist Moscow has expanded military and diplomatic cooperation with Tehran and Damascus. A rising China, meanwhile, is pursuing lucrative business deals with Iran, which provides critical backing to the Assad regime, thanks in part to the robust sanctions relief offered by the July 2015 nuclear agreement.
The result of all this is a shifting balance of power that favors America’s enemies rather than its friends, and increases global disorder. Saudi Arabia must now indeed share the neighborhood — not only with its arch-rival Iran but with the two aspiring superpowers of Russia and China as well. Wide swaths of the Middle East and North Africa must now share the neighborhood with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Europe must now share the neighborhood with millions of Arab refugees and the terrorists embedded among them. And the United States must share the neighborhood with a growing cohort of ISIS-inspired homegrown extremists who sense American weakness — and concomitantly grisly opportunities.
He defends his passivity, toothless diplomacy, and tenuous rapprochements, which have served to embolden America’s enemies, by casting an Iraq-like imbroglio circa 2003–08 as the only alternative — a one-size-fits-all argument meant to deflect any and all calls for increased military engagement.