Obama badly needs a realistic foreign policy

By Dale R. Herspring

Our foreign policy is bankrupt. Leaders around the world who once respected and even feared us now hold the United States in contempt.

Our allies would not use such terms, but it is clear that most of them have ceased to count on American leadership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful head of state in Europe, has expressed her dissatisfaction and lack of trust in Washington and voiced open criticisms of the United States that once would not have been heard.

Not only is our foreign policy bankrupt, it is in disarray. No one knows what the United States will do next — reason enough not to trust or rely on us. The cause goes right to the president’s desk. President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here.”  Our problems today go to a lack leadership and an unwillingness to accept responsibility by the current occupant of that desk, President Barack Obama.  He seems disinterested in regaining the respect and credibility that the United States had in the past. Instead, the White House offers a menu of obfuscation, or in the case many of our foreign and domestic policies, confusion and even lies.  

The list of our foreign policy failures is long and growing longer.  Consider Canada, our close friend and ally. Militarily, Canada and America are closely tied.  When I lectured at a U.S. base in Alaska,  several of the soldiers stationed at the base were Canadi-ans. At Fort Hood, Texas, one of the deputy division commanders is a Canadian general. During the Gulf War, he commanded American soldiers in the liberation of Kuwait. Yet at the recent summit with Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and Mexican President Enrique Peqa Nieto, Obama put Harper off, saying a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline was still under consideration.

Another problem involves Obama’s empty threats. I have in mind the red line he drew against the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Yet when Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his people — clearly crossing the red line — the United States did nothing. I am glad we did not use force, but once a leader threatens to do so, failure risks loss of credibility. Obama looked like an amateur.

Russian President Vladimir Putin helped saved face for Obama by coming up with an arrangement that obviated the need for force. Unfortunately, Syria has only surrendered a small amount of its chemical weapons.  U.S. threats are not a concern to Assad or to Putin.

Obama’s approach to foreign policy also has failed with regard to his “reset” with Russia. Putin is not someone a person would call his best friend, nor does he define democracy the way we do. He is an adherent of the Russian concept of demokrat-zia — a system in which the government provides order and stability and the populace permits the government to do the leading. This doesn’t mean all Rus-sians are happy with Putin’s decisions; it is simply an approach to leadership. Putin sees foreign policy the way most American presidents have in the past. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

On Ukraine, I do not think the United States should have threatened consequences. For now, Obama has been spared the need to make a hard decision, although Putin will not give up easily on restraining democracy in Ukraine.

We have threatened many countries over the past five years and not followed up. Neither Iran nor Syria nor Egypt take us seriously. Our handling of the situation in Egypt was so bad that we alienated both sides in that struggle.  One of our closest allies in the Middle East once was the Egyptian military. Yet the Egyptian general in charge was recently in Moscow discussing purchasing weapons and equipment from Russia.

Being president is a difficult job. Issues takes time and tremendous energy. My concern is that under Obama, we have lost our position of international leadership.  We should not be surprised that the vacuum is being filled by others with whom we may not agree.

If Obama’s handling of foreign policy can be compared to any recent president, it would be Jimmy Carter. Carter tried the same approach, and America’s credibility suffered. I once heard Henry Kissinger say that “a foreign policy not backed up by the threat of a strong military is a weak foreign policy.”

I agree. Unfortunately, Obama seems not to.

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