Critics, both on the left and right of the ideological spectrum, claim President Obama has no foreign policy strategy. But they are wrong. The president has two strategies: One is lost and the other is out looking for it.
Time and again, President Obama has promised that a reduced global presence would achieve a benevolent world order. A multi-polar concert of powers would be derived through a careful balancing of the national interest and mutual displays of goodwill, the president professed repeatedly. Serious statesmen and a conscious public genuinely believed that if America just moderated its behavior, her enemies would make reciprocal gestures.
So far, exactly none of that has happened. Abdication of U.S. leadership has brought only chaos and consequences of regional and global proportions. From radical Islam to Iran to Russia to China, departure from dominance has given rise to dangerous enemies, each seeking to exploit our very retreat by arming themselves to the hilt.
Reversing these setbacks into gains requires performing honest and meaningful introspection about the nature and direction of American leadership, which has spiraled downward in recent years.
A sea change occurred in Cairo on June 4, 2009, when President Obama addressed the Arab world and apologized for American hegemony. He expressed his belief that America is exceptional – just like every other country is exceptional. It’s hard to underestimate the significance of that statement. Then the president proceeded to hollow out the military, and he did things like ban use of the term “radical Islam” from security training manuals. America’s enemies took notice.
Substantively, the president’s speech and subsequent actions cast serious doubt about whether or not he would sustain the means and motivation necessary for ensuring American leadership. Diplomatically, it meant his administration would seek to downgrade ties with allies and strengthen its enemies. What’s followed has been nothing short of a stunning reversal of key U.S. interests, especially in the Middle East.
First and foremost, the president has sought to achieve a grand bargain with Iran over its nuclear program. His administration has continued to conduct nuclear negotiations, even as Tehran continues to fund and support terrorism against the U.S. and the Western world more broadly.
The allies America has abandoned have been forced, as a result, to take defensive measures into their own hands. They are forming regional alliances, not with the U.S. but around it. The Middle East has fragmented and formed into regional blocs, with an Iranian-dominated camp aligned opposite a group of America’s traditional allies. The U.S. has become an observer rather than shaper of events.
Lest Iran’s terror activity spoil the nuclear negotiations, President Obama has simply decided to downplay the danger posed by the regime. Israel, which has warned the world of the consequences of signing a bad deal, not Iran, the leading state-sponsor of terror, has become the main problem.
History demonstrates that American leadership remains the best chance for imposing peace and stability. On a constitutional level, the commander in chief’s basic job is to win America’s wars and guard its shores. If the criticism of President George W. Bush is that he took the mission too far and didn’t carry the nation enough, President Obama has barely accepted the mission and largely ignored the nation.
Ronald Reagan split the difference – communicating his leadership effectively, while conveying a strong belief in the people he was leading, essentially preserving the nation. His power politics enabled the U.S. to win the Cold War by basically scaring the Soviets into submission. In the end, the U.S. didn’t have to fire a single shot. The projection of American hard power made the use of force unnecessary.
The good news is that Iran is much weaker than the Soviet Union, and there are options for defeating it short of war. A prerequisite to that is being clear-eyed about the nature of evil – which is to say, accepting that it is manifest and must be stopped. To persist, America must preserve its values and retain its dominance.
A good way to start demonstrating American leadership is by being a reliable partner to the allies who count on us for protection. For instance, the U.S. could extend its nuclear umbrella to strategic partners in the region. A more ambitious undertaking would see the U.S. deploying naval and ground expeditionary units, as well as additional intelligence assets, across the Middle East. Doing so would signal — both to America’s allies and enemies — the U.S. has the will, power, and resolve to counter the Iranian threat.
A more comprehensive strategy could mirror the politico-military strategy the U.S. wielded successfully against the Soviets. In the case of Iran, that would entail drawing a direct link between the regime’s regional policies and any improvement to its economy. The administration would make the relaxing of sanctions contingent on Iran ending its support for terror abroad and repression at home. To be fully effective, U.S. support for these policies must be explicit, outspoken, and ongoing.
The American people have not forgotten their moral obligation to lead. We have always defined our strategic interests and sought to defend them by dictating strength and displaying leadership. We know that sometimes, as is the case with Iran, if we do not act decisively now, we will pay an even greater price later.
It’s still not too late for President Obama to get serious about the nature of the threats America faces and to take the appropriate measures. Our allies are counting on us to counter attempts to undermine American interests, and our enemies are hoping we won’t.
It’s time the president utilized the ultimate deterrent: belief in American exceptionalism.