Pictures of Barack Obama bowing courtesy of today’s Drudge Report.
I’m not going to hammer on the president for his choice of words on Jon Stewart. I’m not a fan of the Dems’ insulting attempts at faux outrage over things like “binders” so I’ll not do anything but quote our president. But we can safely say, as President Obama did, when Americans die our president’s foreign policy is obviously “not optimal.” And when you look back at the past four years, really, we can’t say what’s happened are mere “bumps in the road,” either, but the result of having chosen the wrong road altogether. Today in the New York Post Amir Taheri put it more succinctly: the president’s foreign policy has “failed.”
So before tonight’s debate about foreign policy, let’s remind ourselves just how sub-optimal this president’s foreign policy has been, and how bumpy the road was. People may criticize Mitt for not having foreign policy experience, but Obama only has four more years than Mitt has, having had none when he started on the job training. The question is whether Barack Obama learned anything during that time, and perhaps the biggest indictment contained in the mess in Libya is that his record indicates he hasn’t learned what he needs to, and is willing to close his eyes to the obvious in favor of a narrative that supports, if tenuously, his world view. Meanwhile I’m sure someone else with a different philosophy, like peace through American strength, would do a lot better.
His One Argument: bin Laden
Let’s start by giving the president partial credit for his one “achievement.” In a true team effort, American intelligence, after years of searching that culminated during the Obama administration, was able to find Osama bin Laden. The president then sent a team of experts into Pakistan to kill him. Still, a number of things still trouble me about this “success.”
First, the president’s beaming over the mission and “spiking the football.” While it’s a comforting thought bin Laden is no longer a threat, call me old fashioned but it does not seem appropriate to throw a party when anyone is killed, even if a confessed terrorist and murderer. The appropriate attitude seems to be one of quiet gratitude, and confidence we were able to accomplish what we needed to protect American citizens from harm. But not elation.
Second, the president’s taking personal credit for the achievement. What happened was a success due to years of work starting in the Bush administration and involving hundreds if not thousands of people from intelligence gatherers to planners of the raid to those who actually executed it. Let’s not forget the president watched it on TV, and was not on the ground personally in Pakistan. He deserves credit as the person at the head of the team, but to the extent he deserves that credit, he deserves as much blame for what went wrong in Libya. And gracious leaders give credit where due. I agree he should be congratulated for making the decision to move forward. He took a risk and it paid off. But I disagree with President Clinton’s assessment that this decision took any special fortitude. I believe Mitt’s right that any president would have made the same decision. So Obama’s credit is for being in the seat at the head of table when the team succeeded, and for calling for the two-point conversion to win the game. He succeeded, and gets the credit for that strategic decision. But it was the team on the field, not him that deserves any glory, and an end-zone dance seems particularly inappropriate.
Third, in his desire to take personal credit, the president shared sensitive intelligence information. He volunteered the identity of the team that carried it out, putting them and their families in danger. And this was one of many leaks, coming per Dianne Feinstein directly out of the White House, of sensitive US information. The president seems willing to compromise security when it suits his political purposes, which I find difficult to condone.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the success of this one mission does not mean Al Qaeda is really “on the run,” as has been claimed by the Dems. They’re still in Afghanistan and now are in Libya. And whatever the president’s policy in this regard, despite bin Laden’s removal, the date of Al Qaeda’s last successful terrorist attack is no longer 9/11/01. It’s 9/11/12.
Now, to more problematic issues: world hot spots
1. Libya. Four Americans are killed in Libya despite pleas for additional security. Reports out of the State Department, the intelligence community and the White House contradict who knew what when. Immediately after the attack the president made a generically deniable statement about not letting terrorism deter us, but spent the next two weeks allowing the American people to believe it’s somehow the fault of our freedom of speech and an obscure YouTube video, using rhetoric that could suggest we somehow deserve what happened. Why? Again President Obama and the Democrats insisted on “spiking the football” over Osama bin Laden’s death at their convention, such that it’s an inconvenient truth that Al Qaeda is not really “on the run,” especially in Libya where the president is trying to take credit for “leading from behind.” Contrary to his assertions, Libya is not a model for American foreign policy success as it is now the site of the first assassination of an ambassador in 30 years.
Judge Jeanine of Fox lets it out here:
But even worse, beyond State Department’s failure to send more support, the White House’s incompetence or disingenuousness about what really happened, yesterday it came out that the Defense Department also knew from drone reports what was happening in Benghazi but moved too slowly to assist. How many of Obama’s departments must be at fault before we lay final responsibility at the president’s feet? According to the report:
The United States had an unmanned Predator drone over its consulate in Benghazi during the attack that slaughtered four Americans — which should have led to a quicker military response, it was revealed yesterday.
“They stood, and they watched, and our people died,” former CIA commander Gary Berntsen told CBS News.
President Obama in the last debate swore to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice. But according to the same report:
Even as the administration continues to vow that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, the man identified by witnesses as a ringleader in the attack continues to walk the streets of Libya without fear of arrest.
Ahmad Abu Khattala has admitted being at the consulate during the horrific attack but has yet to be questioned by any Libyan authorities.
Abu Khattala spoke to a New York Times reporter Thursday from a hotel patio as he sipped a strawberry frappe and mocked the US and Libyan governments.
“These reports say that no one knows where I am and that I am hiding,” he boasted. “But here I am in the open, sitting in a hotel with you. I’m even going to pick up my sister’s kids from school soon.”
For a full report of what happened, and who said what when, here is Bret Baier’s report, which we’ve linked to before:
2. Iran. Here’s where leading from behind really backfired. In 2009 Iran’s people were hungry for democracy and protesting in the streets. The president did nothing and the demonstrations were silenced. If those demonstrations had received western support, would we be talking about Iran’s getting closer to a nuclear weapon today? Quite possibly no. Failing to avoid a potential nuclear showdown in the middle east is also “not optimal.” But now that we’ve got to deal with Obama’s Iranian mess, from the Boston Herald:
Obama says he’ll prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Romney says he’ll prevent Tehran from getting the “capacity” to build a weapon.
Capacity means the production of sufficient fissile material that Iran, in theory, could further enrich to bomb-grade capacity and, ultimately, attach to a weapon (which also takes time to design). Capacity is also the red line used by Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who says Iran will acquire it within six months.
So who has the better plan, the guys who predictably say “let’s wait and see what happens,” or Mitt, who says he’ll shut down this threat early, as our ally Israel insists is the right course?
3. Afghanistan. America’s longest war. We’re still there. Will our setting a fixed timetable for withdrawal allow our enemies to just wait us out? Quite possibly. The New York Times reports:
… both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama say they think that America should be out of Afghanistan by 2014, the internationally agreed deadline for the withdrawal of forces, though Mr. Romney has the caveat that he wants to hear from his generals first. (The generals thought that Mr. Obama’s insistence on setting a clear deadline for withdrawal was a bad idea — as did Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and many others.)
So whose idea is best in Afghanistan? Send a letter to our enemies telling them how long they need to wait us out and re-take the country, or Mitt’s plan to listen to the generals on the ground and not cede to political forces at the expense of the mission?
4. Iraq. Yes, we’re out. At least mostly. But was our withdrawal politically motivated? Or was it really a success? The timeline for withdrawal seemed again to defy the advice of our people on the ground. And it may not have been Obama’s choice.
According to this Huffington Post article of a year ago, Obama really wanted to stay, but couldn’t reach agreement with the Iraqis on the terms:
The Obama administration, concerned over continued violence and growing Iranian influence, for much of this year pushed to keep thousands of U.S. troops here in a significant-sized training mission. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials expressed support of the idea, and they negotiated for months.
It was politically delicate for both Obama and al-Maliki, who each faced widespread opposition from their respective publics to continue a war that was never popular in either nation.
But talks ran aground over Iraqi opposition to giving American troops legal immunity that would shield them from Iraqi prosecution. Legal protection for U.S. troops has always angered everyday Iraqis who saw it as simply a way for the Americans to run roughshod over the country. Many Iraqi lawmakers were hesitant to grant immunity for fear of a backlash from constituents.
“When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible,” al-Maliki told a news conference Saturday. “The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.”
When Obama announced Friday that all American forces would leave Iraq by the end of the year, he did not mention the immunity issue, portraying the decision as the fulfillment of one of his main campaign promises to end the conflict.
So Obama tried to paint even this involuntary withdrawal as a success, even though it was clear he and his advisors did not view it as the right move. Meanwhile, here’s what Mitt said at the time:
President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.
Yes, Mitt saw to the heart of this issue. It wasn’t Obama’s success that got us out of Iraq, it was his ineptitude.
5. China. As much an economic as diplomatic issue, as Mitt recognizes, American foreign policy might depends on our economic might, and our failure to prosecute our interests with China quickly becomes a legitimate foreign policy issue. Can we survive economically or militarily if we owe trillions to a foreign power? What has President Obama done to promote American business interests with China? Not much until recently, when pushed by Mitt. The New York Times said of relations with China:
This is the moment for each candidate to describe how he would counter China’s growing claims in the South China Sea and other disputed territories, how he would handle trade tensions, and how he would manage a world in which the United States, for better or worse, is going to be reliant on Chinese investment in American debt for years to come. And it is the moment for each to give his view of the leadership change under way in China, where three-quarters of the top political posts are about to change hands.
Who merits our trust, Obama or Romney, to do what’s right with China? Obama has done very little so far, and his policy has been not to offend. Unfortunately that’s unavoidable sometimes unless you’re willing to put American interests behind your own.
In terms of non-economic issues, China has also been making demonstrations of military power of late, and with a reduced military budget and declining economic might, our options under President Obama’s policies may leave us fewer satisfactory responses. Per Mr. Taheri:
For its part, China has sped up its military buildup and flexed its muscles against Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. Beijing has also accelerated the building of a blue-water navy to challenge the US in the Pacific and Indian oceans. And, by undervaluing its currency, China has continued what amounts to low-intensity economic warfare.
Finally a headline from the weekend edition of the Financial Times: “China flexes muscle over Senkaku.” It was accompanied by a photo of three Chinese military officers pointing handguns at the sky, and the statement “China’s navy started a joint exercise with civilian maritime agencies in the East China Sea yesterday. The drill is being read as a warning to Tokyo, with which Beijing is embroiled in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands.” If there is in fact trouble between China and Japan, what would Obama do? I’m not feeling confident.
6. Israel. Why are our relations with Israel so bad that Joe Biden had to exaggerate the strength of his relationship with Israel’s prime minister in his Vice Presidential debate (it later came out he can’t possibly have known the Israeli prime minister as long as he claimed)? Why would President Obama suggest that Israel should go back to its 1967 borders, inviting Israel’s enemies and possibly forcing us into a war to defend our closest ally in the region? Said the New York Times at the time of Obama’s statement:
The Israeli government immediately protested, saying that for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders would leave it “indefensible.” Mr. Netanyahu held an angry phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday before the speech, officials said, in which he demanded that the president’s reference to 1967 borders be cut.
Israeli officials continued to lobby the administration until right before Mr. Obama arrived at the State Department for the address. White House officials said he did not alter anything under Israeli pressure, though the president made changes in the text that delayed his appearance by 35 minutes.
…the shift moves the United States a step closer to the position of the Palestinians, and is viewed as vital to them because it means the Americans implicitly back their view that new Israeli settlement construction will have to be reversed, or compensated for, in talks over the borders for a new Palestinian state.
So who do we back, Israel or the Palestinians? Mitt has said he’d stand with Israel. He also has a personal relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu that will help mend fences.
7. Russia. Rather than stand up to Putin’s increasing grip on Russia, Obama was famously caught on microphone telling Russia’s then president to pass along word to Putin that Obama would have “more flexibility” with (i.e., less accountability to) the American people after this election. What would President Obama allow Putin to do after he didn’t have to answer to us anymore? And what else may he be thinking of in other areas? Interestingly Putin endorses Obama’s presidency this time around (along with two other dictators Castro and Chavez). Also, Russia’s help is needed to find a solution in Syria, something President Obama has failed to get done. Mr. Taheri added in his column today another troubling development in relations with Russia:
Encouraged by a perceived weakness on the part of the Obama administration, Russia has cast itself as an adversary, adopting an aggressive profile in regions of vital US interest. A clear signal in Moscow’s change of attitude has come with the installation of S400 missiles close to the Caspian Basin and of long-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave next to Poland.
Mitt has identified Russia as one of our key geopolitical foes. Failure to stand with us against Iran and Syria legitimately earn Russia this title. Who do we trust more to stand up to Putin, Obama or Mitt?
8. Syria. Of course this is part of our Russian problem. How to get Syria to stop attacking its own people when Russia won’t force them to, and we’ve lost strength with Russia (even promising more “flexibility,” as noted above). Is there anything we can do? President Obama doesn’t have any new ideas. Mitt suggested getting concessions from Russia before making unilateral changes to our defense posture in Eastern Europe. Perhaps with that leverage we could have leaned on Russia to press for changes in Iran or Syria. But now we’ll never know.
One of the long-standing fears about unrest in Syria is that it can spread throughout an already volatile region. Violence has already spread to the border with Turkey, and the headline in today’s Financial Times read “Syrian turmoil spills into Beirut,” reporting on a demonstration in Lebanon yesterday. This demonstration was in response to car bombing of a Lebanese official credited with arresting one of Syria’s allies in Lebanon. The attack was called one of the worst in Beirut in years. Laurent Fabius of the French Foreign Ministry said: “The interest of BAshar [al Assad], who is a manipulator, is to expand the contagion into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.” Unfortunately it appears he may be succeeding. Obama’s response? Something tells me we’ll be leading from behind again.
9. North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons and is working on a means of delivery. This has been quiet lately but the guys in Pyongyang will likely be back making threats when they feel they have the leverage to do so.
10. Europe. Besides a possible economic crisis if the Euro folds, the economic consequences of which Obama has proven unable to control, according to Mr. Taheri:
…lack of clarity in Obama’s policies has left the US no longer consulted even on crucial economic issues. And for all his promise to make the oceans recede, Obama has failed to provide the leadership needed to bring the allies together on environmental issues. Even the minimum accords negotiated by the Bush administration have been put on the backburner.
I’ll wrap up with a commentary by Mr. Taheri:
Part of Obama’s failure may be due to lack of experience; he had never been exposed to the challenges of international politics.
Yet the real reason for Obama’s failure may be his fantasy view of the world in which his personal charm and knowledge are vastly overrated.
This is how candidate Obama praised himself four years ago: “I think that I am a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I am a better political director than my political director.”
This has led to high-octane personalization of policymaking. Yet Obama has been unable or unwilling to make the personal contribution, in terms of study and hard work, that such a style requires.
Mideast leaders tell me that “urgent questions” remain unanswered for weeks because the president is “otherwise engaged.” The US was left without an ambassador in Baghdad for months because the president couldn’t find the time to make a decision.
Obama’s foreign policy has been a jumble of contradictions. On the one hand, deep down, the president believes that America has long projected too much of its hard power, often for the wrong reasons. Thus, he hopes to rebrand his nation as a larger version of Norway by having recourse to soft power, chiefly his own charm and intelligence.
We have the chance to oust a part-time, inexperienced community organizer at a time when world events demand someone with more gravitas. We need to take that chance.