Obama’s foreign policy shows a declinist predilection. Can a Republican candidate offer a Reaganesque alternative in today’s changing world?

by Eric R. Staal for The International Chronicles


When an individual is confronted with facts that do not fit his world view, there are three possible responses: adjust the world view to accommodate the new reality, go into a state of utter denial to rationalize the old world view in the face of contravening evidence, or become overpowered by the contradictions.

In the case of the Obama administration there is no indication of a major shift in foreign policy to reflect the emerging geopolitical paradigm, so that suggests either denial or stasis as the best characterization of current U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

In foreign policy denial and stasis can look quite similar. Denial is willful blindness to new realities, while stasis can lead to irrationality if one expects a miraculously different outcome from the same course of action. Both denial and stasis result in a ‘business-as-usual’ approach, which is infused with a heavy dose of hope to justify the failure to adapt. The foreign policy elite at the Council of Foreign Relations and in the US State Department would refer approvingly to the state of denial or stasis with terms like ‘international stability’ or ‘continuity.’ But those terms should not be used to cloak incompetence.

Other than killing Osama bin Laden the Obama administration’s foreign policy track record has been myopic most of the time and erratic the rest. The response to the Arab Spring has been incoherent, the sycophantic overtures of ‘engagement’ toward Russia and Iran unconscionably self-defeating, and the handling of the wars in Libya and Afghanistan outright reckless.

Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination will seek to exploit Obama’s foreign policy missteps, as they compete to demonstrate hawkish foreign policy bona fides and a worthiness to carry forward the legacy of Ronald Reagan. However, criticism of the administration alone will neither score a lot of points among undecided voters, nor allow a candidate to separate himself from a crowded field in the Republican primaries.

Voters know the issues are complex and that answers are not that simple. The President will rely on his tired excuses that the crises the previous administration left him to 'clean up' were intractable and that there are limits to what American power can do to shape events in today's unmanageable puzzle of swirling world events. Sadly, against the backdrop of a weak economy and unprecedented national debt, plenty of voters will sympathize with Obama’s ‘declinist’ predilections, questioning how much the United States can realistically achieve in this new foreign policy paradigm.

In order to stand out among the swelling field and to stand up effectively to Obama in a tete-a-tete debate, a Republican candidate will need to expose the president for the narrow-minded, status-quo opportunist he has become. The successful challenger will need to articulate a clear and powerful vision for American foreign policy.

Obama’s second-rate foreign policy team and its media apologists (e.g. the omnipresent America-in-Decline cheerleader Fareed Zakaria) will argue in the pages of Foreign Affairs and on CNN in favor of the President’s status-quo approach, i.e. strengthening or even reforming existing institutions such as NATO and the UN, working diplomatic channels to odious regimes in Iran, Pakistan and the Middle East, pushing for a hopelessly misguided Arab-Israeli peace deal, bringing North Korea to the table, etc.

The emphases on the nuances and subtleties of each situation will preclude any meaningful foreign policy rethink and simply give intellectual cover to the business-as-usual mindset. This pedestrian attitude reflects the mainstream liberal-leftwing consensus and it is in complete denial about the dramatic changes we are witnessing across the world.

The New Paradigm
Nowhere has the administration’s state of denial been more apparent than in the President’s blundering series of reactions to the Arab Spring, obtusely threatening dictators in Syria and Libya with no endgame for replacing them and channeling billions of dollars to Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood prepares to seize power.

The questions have been asked by many commentators already: Why demand that the dictators of Libya and Syria go but ‘engage’ Iran and maintain relations with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, all of which violently repress minorities and dissidents at home while fostering terrorism and radicalism abroad? These are questions Republican challengers should ask, but the prevailing nominee will also need to offer a principled and strategic alternative. The starting point should be to make the case that foreign policy must be based on reality, not on the wishful denial of it.

Republican candidates should insist the administration acknowledge the existence of Iran’s war with the United States and how it is being played out across the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America. The United States has not been at war with Iran, but Iran has been at war with the West and the United States since the ayatollahs brutally seized power in 1979. And Tehran has escalated the conflict year-in, year-out on a global basis. The means by which it exports Islamic revolution across the planet must be taken seriously and fully understood. But Iran is not alone.

On a competing basis with Iran the Saudis are playing a double game of using the United States to contain Iranian regional hegemony while exporting their own version of Wahhabist extremism to Africa, Europe and the United States.

Through the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries use international fora such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Alliance of Civilizations to lobby for the international recognition of Sharia law, which sanctions the oppression of women, the systematic abuse of non-believers and even slavery as practiced in Africa and the Middle East today.

Furthermore, the OIC actively seeks to restrict freedom of speech in the West when it comes to Islam. Strangely the Obama administration made the United States a signatory to the Alliance of Civilizations last year. Neither the United States nor Europe have challenged the propaganda campaign for Sharia to be accepted into international norms although in fact it is a brutal and totalitarian legal code under which hundreds of millions of people suffer. If Sharia can be referred to in US court cases and Councils can exist in the UK, then why also not Chinese Communist law and the Code of Hammurabi for that matter? Sharia poses a direct threat to Western sovereignty.

In Africa the violent spread of Islam in places like Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda is funded by Saudi extremists and—in places like Sudan—augmented by Chinese investment. Not that China’s class of ruling Communists ever had any respect for human rights, but the country’s rapacious appetite for natural resources has made it a menace.   Among the liberal-leftwing mainstream, there are many who embrace America’s 21st century decline as the natural course of history or even as a desired end to what they consider an inherently flawed Pax Americana. These elites have formed and influenced Obama’s foreign policy team from academia as well as think tanks like the Brookings Institution. But we should not be naïve that the Pacific Century will be a tranquil time accompanied by the spread of enlightened Confucian values.

The most worthy of US allies in Asia is India and yet this relationship continues to be compromised by the misguided hope to gain more support from Pakistan for the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some Conservative diplomats have even floated the idea of pressing India to cede Kashmir to Pakistan in return for better relations with Islamabad.

The Obama administration gives the duplicitous Pakistani regime US$3 billion a year. However, like much of the Muslim world, the Pakistan of 2011 is not what it was twenty years ago. Non-Muslims live under constant violence, churches and Christians are attacked regularly, women are sentenced to be raped for violating Sharia. The country is a hotspot where young terrorist recruits from around the world come for training.

Obama has highlighted the inseparability of the war in Afghanistan from the war in Pakistan with its relentless bombing of Taliban strongholds on both sides. Curiously Obama claimed that detaining terrorists in Gitmo was a violation of international law and human rights in the last election, but apparently sustained bombing with unavoidable civilian casualties is not. This contradiction reveals the president’s lack of seriousness when it comes to international affairs as well as his political opportunism.

It is in the handling of the Afghanistan war that the President has rightly already received much criticism. In declaring a deadline for withdrawal, Obama gave the enemy a date for American surrender and sold out those within the country that have collaborated with allied forces. Worse yet, he undermined the ongoing efforts of US troops. But Obama has not been attacked where he is most vulnerable on this issue.

If the troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, then why in three years? What are the troops supposed to achieve in that time? Did the President choose to keep the troops in theater to avoid having to answer for the surrender of Afghanistan in the next election? A Republican challenger must ask if the troops are staying so that Obama does not appear too dovish in 2012.

Another major shift has occurred in Turkey, where an Islamist government has shredded the country’s secular constitutional order in recent years. Much like the rest of the Middle East, non-Muslims face violent persecution under the nose of a supportive state apparatus. Complicating things further, Turkey has been the source of provocations toward Israel with its flotilla jihad and support for terrorists. As if the invasion and occupation of Cyprus since the 1970s were not enough of a flagrant violation of human rights and international law to warrant reconsidering Turkey’s membership in NATO, more recent developments should force a reassessment of Turkey’s status in American foreign relations.

NATO itself must also be questioned. There is rising sentiment among the US electorate to dissolve the alliance and reallocate vital resources. Paraphrasing Lord Ismay, NATO’s raison d’etre of ‘keeping the Russians out, Americans in and the Germans down’ has been out of date for a very long time. Unfortunately the Germans have stayed down after the shelf-life of postwar foreign policy expired.

Moreover, for decades now European members have failed to contribute the defense expenditures necessary to maintain NATO and there is no prospect they ever will. This situation has led to deficiencies in the ability to fight side-by-side, which have come to the fore in the latest Libya adventure. The outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense is even questioning NATO’s relevance given the lack of European resource behind the alliance. Setting apart NATO's decaying capabilities, any missions jointly undertaken with European allies—such as the one in Afghanistan—could be assembled without NATO’s unique collective security guarantee.

The security threats Europe faces today are far from a Cold War situation. Europe’s unspoken security threat comes primarily from within. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are each actively funding Islamization, in the process building mega mosques to mark the territory in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and the UK. Demographic realities show that most of Western Europe could well be majority Muslim within the next couple of decades, even as early as 2030 or 2040. The character of European countries is changing rapidly through forced conversions, immigration and rising non-indigenous birth rates—not least owing to the increasingly common practice of polygamy.

Not surprisingly, Europe has become a breeding ground for terrorism that not only gave us 9/11 but whose changing demographics will continue to pose a serious national security concern and also undermine the alliance with the United States. If home grown terrorists already seek retribution in Germany and the UK for the involvement of those countries in Afghanistan, how relevant will NATO be in future scenarios?

‘Peace Through Strength’
Much has been written comparing this year’s Arab Spring to Europe’s 1989 uprisings that led to the downfall of Communist regimes. The comparison is useful for Republican candidates aspiring to the legacy of Ronald Reagan and wishing to draw the distinction to President Obama.
When crowds of demonstrators began forming in Eastern Germany and neighboring countries in 1989, it was no foregone conclusion that the Communist regimes would eventually give way. What surely made a difference to both demonstrators and regimes was the steadfast position of the United States throughout the 1980s that those willing to stand up for their freedom had a reliable ally in the West and that Communist tyranny would eventually be brought down.

Thanks to Reagan’s assiduous policies, Soviet expansionism was in retreat having been countered in Latin America, Africa and Afghanistan. Back at home, Eastern Europe’s Communist regimes were isolated and bankrupt with little to play for. Another bloody crackdown could prop them up for awhile but would ultimately be a dead end.

By comparison, the regimes in Libya, Syria and Iran have everything to play for and every reason to believe that it is America whose reign is coming to an end. Therefore a crackdown will pay as the US retreats into its Western moral and economic bankruptcy and Islamic civilization continues its predestined ascent. Obama’s policies have fed this belief, discouraging  those who agitate for freedom in Iran and Syria while affirming dictators who see themselves as triumphant.
Unlike Obama, Reagan was not in denial that there are enemies of freedom or that we all share the same desire for peaceful coexistence. Reagan unequivocally identified the Soviet Union as the culprit threatening international peace and security, for which he was mocked by the liberal-leftwing intelligentsia as a simpleton lacking in worldliness. Reagan’s foreign policy was informed and shaped by the clarity of vision to defeat the Soviet Union—with its massive armed forces and menacing nuclear arsenal—and put an end to the peril that posed an existential threat to the United States and was the cause of so much suffering throughout the world.

Contrast Reagan’s approach to Soviet expansionism with how Obama has dealt with Islamist expansionism. All of the latter’s speeches and policies suggest he is in denial about the threat rather than willing to confront it. Obama clearly believes that there can be coexistence with radical Islamic regimes bent on exporting their barbaric ideology from Tehran, Mecca and Waziristan.

Hence when asked by a student in India about his views on jihad, Obama arrogantly fell back on foolish platitudes: “Islam is one of the world's great religions” which “in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted.” That must have resonated well in a country that has throughout history suffered slaughters of genocidal proportions at the hands of Muslims and has endured some of the worst terrorist attacks in recent times.

While Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union, it was not on the delusional basis that the Soviets wanted peace. It was on the basis that the Soviets were an enemy whose interests in world domination were fundamentally at odds with American interests. Dialogue was meant to advance American national interests, not to find a harmonious compromise between two morally equivalent world views.

In today’s world we are up against a similarly diabolical and univeralist ideology to that of Soviet Communism, but one that is more insidious with its religious disguise. As a result, the need is even greater to speak plainly and make clear to friend and foe that Islamist expansionism will not succeed. There can never be a global caliphate because even if the rest of the world is uninformed about the Quran and Sharia, their inhumane prescriptions are simply not acceptable.

The next Republican candidate must be capable of delivering the optimistic message that freedom and liberty can be supported  vigorously even in the retrograde corners of the Middle East, while asserting that the United States can recalibrate its foreign policy and relations based on the clear objective to defeat Islamism as a political ideology.

The Republican candidate for the American Presidency in 2012 should formulate a foreign policy that calls for regime change in countries where reform appears to be possible and there is a prospect for something better, particularly Iran where exiles and internal opposition could form a new representative government. The relationship to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey should all be placed on a new footing until the human rights situation shows real movement.

Foreign aid should be completely off the table to countries that fail to respect human rights and in which minorities—particularly religious groups—face persecution. This includes funding through international institutions such as the United Nations. Diplomatic, economic and military resources should be re-oriented to countries suffering most from violent Islamist expansionism in Africa and Asia. To this end, US financial support should be redirected from UN agencies and programs that promote abortion, population control and other wasteful aspects of the liberal-leftwing agenda to deal with real priorities like human trafficking and slavery as practiced in Africa and the Middle East.

The NATO alliance should be reviewed along with the US European relationship overall, while the strategic alliance with India should be made a priority. Similarly alliances in Latin America must be elevated and a renewed focus placed on reducing the susceptibility of the region to jihadist plans.

With a clear understanding of the emerging geopolitical reality and a clear vision for US foreign policy, a Republican candidate can expose Obama’s weakness as a status-quo politician in denial about the emerging foreign policy reality and unnecessarily squandering American power and influence. In many ways, Obama is nothing more than a repackaged version of President Jimmy Carter; naïve about who America’s friends and foes are, irresponsible in the use of American power and influence, and myopic in his acquiescence to American decline.

Since 9/11 US leaders have sought to avoid a clash of civilizations with Islam, holding to vacuous statements that it is a great religion which has merely been perverted or misunderstood. However, the denial of the threat—emanating from extremism in the Islamic world—to Western Civilization's fundamental tenets of human rights and liberty has not helped to steer away from such a course.

Those who revere Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy legacy affectionately summarize his doctrine as ‘peace through strength.’ The next Republican nominee for president would do well to remember it.

Hope is not a foreign policy.



Eric R. Staal is the Executive Editor of The International Chronicles.
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published this page in The Attic 2012-03-27 00:36:41 -0400