At times, I worry I have been too critical of President Barack Obama. Having served for years in the foreign policy bureaucracy, one realizes it is impossible for a president to avoid mistakes. Indeed, there are times presidents don’t know what is going on. Yet it makes little sense to talk of Obama’s actions and those of his administration separately. Numerous studies have shown that it is the president who decides how he wants the administration to run. The nature of each administration changes with a new president.
Given his role in setting the stage for his administration, the president must bear responsibility for its actions — good or bad. The problem for Obama is that our foreign policy careens from one defeat to another. The United States is no longer respected throughout the world. The Chinese pay little attention to us, and the Russians do what they want with Ukraine. Our European allies, who in some ways are doing more than we are, have little faith in us. No one is comfortable taking actions that count on the United States for back-up.
Obama some time ago decided to “lead from behind.” He seems to believe that U.S. leadership is bad, if not evil. Indeed, he seems to think that U.S. foreign policy is a major cause of most of the world’s problems. If we let others lead — or so the logic seems to go — the world would be a better place. The problem, however, is that when a country as powerful as the United States moves to the background, countries that no longer fear American power move forward.
In addition to Russian and Chinese actions, the Egyptians have turned to the Russians for military weapons, Algeria is in chaos, we don’t know what is happening in Syria, the loss of Afghanistan appears to be only a matter of time, and who knows where Iraq will end up? Imagine the impact of the threat, “Do that, and the Americans will come!” Who would take such a threat seriously?
A second issue is Obama’s commitment to the kind of left-wing world view that his pastor articulated before Obama became president. It is one thing to have an idea of what one would like to achieve. It is quite different to bring a left-wing ideology to the presidency and be oblivious to ideas or events that might cause one to think otherwise.
I am speculating based on reports out of Washington from personal contacts, but Obama seems to have developed an arrogance akin to Richard Nixon’s; he does not care what others think — he is the boss. A number of people who claim to know him have said that is why he went out to play golf minutes after his comments on the execution by the Islamic State of captured journalist James Foley. Obama’s comments were excellent, but going golfing immediately after speaking was a public relations disaster.
No one should begrudge the president time to relax. But, even the British prime minister understood the “optics” of a situation as tragic as Foley’s beheading.
Another problem Obama faces is his refusal to hold a dialogue with individuals with whom he disagrees. Republican lawmakers have had almost no contact with him since he became president. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the case with Democrats with whom he disagrees. Obama, our “imperial president,” is happy to issue decrees and to ignore laws with which he does not agree.
One cannot hold ideological prescriptions and expect to negotiate with opponents. But this is what Obama has done for six years. He presents his prescription and ridicules or ignores any who disagree.
Another problem is Obama’s refusal to understand the importance of military power. Despite his kind words about military personnel, he believes the use of American military power is wrong — unless he is forced to use it. This has led to the de-emphasis of the military. As a result, experts — including some Democrats — have warned that unless we begin to put a lot more money into our military, we will fall even further behind in this conflicted world. It does not take a genius to understand the extent of opposition in the Pentagon to what they consider our feckless and anti-military president.
One of the tragic and ironic effects of Foley’s beheading is that it sets the stage for a major change in U.S. foreign policy. If the Islamic State continues beheading Americans, U.S. public opinion may force Obama to deploy more troops in Iraq. Obama can talk about the need to work with allies, but as a Russian contact said with regard to the Islamic State: “The Americans are key. If you aren’t all in, the story is over.”