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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Campaign 2012 Obama Foreign Policy

I am going to describe the candidates in several aspects of the job.  I am putting this up, not for your benefit, but for mine. I am soliciting your comments in the hopes of improving my own perspective.
The first is an update of what I wrote on Sept 11, 2011   Sept 2, 2011.

Obama’s foreign policy

What I hoped would be characteristic of Obama’s foreign policy went something like this.
1. Be strong where US security is involved.
2. Be reluctant to interfere inside other countries even “for their benefit.” Use all other available means first.
3. If you must go into another country, then go in carefully and get a lot of other countries to go with you so that it is (and appears to be) a world action.
4. Lay the groundwork for reducing the military budget (I would hope to about 3 % of GDP) AND reducing the military mission by a concomitant amount.
and finally I hoped that he would:
5. Agree with Walter Lippman’s belief that: "Foreign Policy is bringing into balance the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power, with a comfortable margin of power in reserve."
I hoped that he would consider that dictum in light of the fact that, in the last 60 years, our GDP has dropped from 50% to 25% of the world’s GDP. Then begin moving us away from the (unsustainable) KATN (kick ass and take names) U S foreign policy and toward the next proper (and sustainable) American role in the world: that of being first among equals.  For an example of how that could work without being  (or appearing to be) weak, see Fareed Zakaria's book:  The Post American World, 2.1.

So how is he doing after 43 months in office? Well, we have some examples. This is very preliminary and therefore subject to change – probably they will not go quite as well as I hope they will. So with that caveat

In the war in Afghanistan he upped the ante and increased American forces. How it will end is not clear. But he has showed himself willing to be quite aggressive in the war widely believed to be justified for American security. As aggressive as, say, Bush 41 was.

When the pirates had Capt. Richard Phillips as a hostage Obama directed the military to take them down directly and totally. They did it with coordinated gunfire that left 3 dead and one captured. I don’t think he checked with Congress about that and I’m glad he didn’t.

In Iran I suppose that he judged that our intervening would not increase the chances of a good outcome. Obama resisted the urge to get us involved in what could easily have become our third simultaneous war with Muslims. In Egypt there was a very strong institution, the Army, which had a positive attitude and appears to be able to handle that transition without any outside help. In both of these examples I think that what Obama understands (and some of his detractors do not) is that if we jump into these situations early in a big way we will cripple the revolutionaries because they will be labeled as U S stooges (= traitors).

In Libya where, again, we could not afford another war, somebody(?) got NATO (usually thought of as an extension of the US military) to undertake a very effective action in that country. That somebody got those folks in France, whom some ridicule as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, to take a leading role in that action. His detractors call that achievement “leading from behind”. Finally in Syria, Obama waited a long time before ordering US sanctions on Syria. Some people thought it was an outlandishly long time. However, the great majority of Syria’s oil is sold to Europe. Obama and Europe have been doing a dance the last few months while they took turns increasing the pressure in Syria. The real potential for pressure in this case lay with the Europeans. Perhaps he is, again, getting the world to take a larger role. It might be appropriate here to recall Harry Truman’s observation that, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Napoleon famously said, “If you set out to take Vienna, then take Vienna.”
Obama’s corollary is: “If you set out to get bin Laden, then get bin Laden.” 

These things are consistent with moving the U S role in the world from KATN toward first among equals.

On the negative side there are the leaks about the bin Laden mission and the mishandling of Fast and Furious and the stonewalling on it.

So I will give him at least a B+.


  1. That seems like an accurate analysis and a fair grade. I'll just add that he has also stepped up drone attacks, showing a stronger stance in the "War on Terror" than even his immediate predessesor.

  2. The B+ rating seems OK. I am having a little problem with the “first among equals” as a concept and as a goal. I would welcome other views on what that actually means and why it is a “desirable” goal.