Saturday, 21 June 2014

Obama, chickens, roost

As if neatly to point up the serial failures of Obama's foreign policy, yesterday the UN announced the highest-ever refugee count of the postwar period.

I know. I am just a lowly blogger and not even one of Obama's electors. But these things matter to all of us. The reality is, we all still depend on the US. It still has a special place and responsibility in the world, and will do for a long time yet.

Now, I am not one of those Labourites who gets into a nerdy lather over US politics (full disclosure: I did make the now-traditional pilgrimage to meet the Democrats in 2000 and learned a lot from that trip). In fact, I am not much given to writing about it at all.

But, as a European leftist on the right of his party, I should surely be one of Obama's natural supporters. We believe in many similar things to the Democrats (equality, public services, importance of business, trade unions and so on). I was a big supporter of Bill Clinton and by no means find much common ground with the Republicans.

So why am I left with the inescapable feeling that he is the least capable president since Carter?

Because my foreign policy is that of the Labour Party of yore, of Ernie Bevin: "to be able to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please". It is of solidarity, it is not standing by and watching as the world burns. And I share this with others, similarly disappointed, across the political spectrum, often in a quite non-partisan sense. It is not the policy of Obama.

Yes, he brought in Obamacare, and it would be difficult to do worse than Bush on the domestic front. However - and call me selfish - as a foreigner, I see US policy in terms of how it affects me, i.e. its foreign policy. And in that it is difficult to conclude that the current President has been not merely a disappointment but, increasingly, a disaster.

He has had a few successes: terrorist leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, thought to be the mastermind of the Benghazi bombing, was captured a few days ago and we should not forget that Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed on Obama's watch. Though controversial, his drone program has had some partial success (if we were to be uncharitable, of course, we might attribute these things to the US Army rather than its Commander-in-Chief, and note that losing a US ambassador in the bombing was hardly a moment of triumph).

But in terms of the grand strategic vision, Obama seems to have shown a basic lack of grip of geopolitics. Of being up to the job of high-level negotiation on behalf of his country and, de facto, the developed world.

Exhibit A: the "reset" with Russian foreign relations. Oh yes, that went well.

In fact, not only has Vladimir Putin been given an inch and taken a mile, but he shows no signs of letting up, as Michael Weiss reported yesterday. Every time that commentators decide that he has "had enough" in Ukraine and "will settle for what he's got", he confounds expectations. The glaringly obvious truth is that he will not have "had enough" until someone tells him to stop. It doesn't look like this is going to be Obama.

Exhibit B: Syria. Although the UK was not exactly covered in glory - least of all the Labour Party - by the fiasco of the Syria vote, the final determinant, as always in such matters, was the US position. If you needed evidence that Obama were deeply wedded to a non-interventionist line, no matter what the humanitarian horror, we need only look at what has happened since.

After "never again" in Rwanda, the death-toll in Syria is 150,000 and counting. It was pointed out recently that this now surpasses the death toll in Iraq (a larger country, with which the British left still seems to be obsessed). It is also worth noting, as this brilliant video reminded me yesterday, that in Kosovo the death-toll was 10,000 and we intervened. Now fifteen years have passed, the death-toll is fifteen times higher and we show no signs of intervening. How times change.

Exhibit C: Iran. Obama thought he could do business with Iran (another "reset"). Turns out he couldn't. Recently he has negotiated generously to secure a few more months of a non-nuclear Iran. To cap it all, with recent developments in Iraq, he feels that Iran can play a "constructive" role there. Honestly, what is he thinking?

Which brings us nicely to Exhibit D: Iraq. As the Washington Post points out in this fine piece, Obama is now paying the price for his early, hasty withdrawal and his failure to leave a hefty troop presence there - or, in fact, any at all - to monitor and keep the peace. As the piece notes, Al Qaeda were almost gone by the time he arrived, but they appear to now have been replaced on his watch by something worse, were that actually possible: ISIS. This is not to mention, of course, the hugely important issue of the West's inaction on Syria as a causative factor (see Exhibit B).

It sometimes seem that the only way forward for us all is to close our eyes and hold our breath for the next two years, in the hope that someone better may come along to sort out world affairs. But in foreign policy, inaction means not even standing still: it means going backwards.

Whoever has the grim task of taking over in 2016 will surely have to work twice as hard at foreign policy - and, quite probably, defence - to undo Obama's disastrous, pusillanimous years at the helm.


  1. You're confusing Barack Obama with Sooty.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I've missed that - you think he's a sock puppet for someone?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...