Sunday, May 4, 2014

Friedman on Obama's Foreign Policy

Thomas Friedman offers a smart take on President Obama's foreign policy in The New York Times.

Let me start by asking a question I’ve asked about other countries: Is American foreign policy today the way it is because Obama is the way he is (cerebral, cautious, dispassionate) or is Obama the way Obama is on foreign policy because America is the way America is today (burned by two failed wars and weakened by a great recession) and because the world is the way the world is (increasingly full of failed states and enfeebled U.S. allies)? The answer is some of both, but I’d put a lot more emphasis on the latter.

I’d argue that a lot of what makes America less active in the world today is a product first of all of our own diminished leverage because of actions taken by previous administrations. The decisions by the Bush I and Clinton teams to expand NATO laid the seeds of resentment that helped to create Putin and Putinism. The Bush II team not only presided over two unsuccessful wars, but totally broke with American tradition and cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for those wars, weakening our balance sheet. The planning for both wars was abysmal, their execution worse and too many of our “allies” proved to be corrupt or used our presence to prosecute old feuds.

Where we have real partners, who share our basic values and are ready to fight for them themselves — like the Kurds, who have built an island of decency that is the great unsung success story of the Iraq war — limited U.S. help can go a long way. Indeed, has anyone noticed that the two biggest reform successes in the Muslim Middle East today — Tunisia and Kurdistan — are places where our recent involvement was nil. They wanted it, and they built it.

But where our allies are either too few or too divided — Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — it requires a much deeper and longer U.S. involvement on the ground to midwife a new order than most Americans will tolerate. And to pretend that we can intervene on the cheap or just from the air is nonsense (look at Libya) and to pretend that Obama’s wariness is just because he’s a sissy community organizer is also nonsense.

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