Presidential procrastination on foreign policy
Christopher Newton | Monday, October 6, 2014
A Sunday after a home-game win: as always, a time for procrastination and limited productivity. The Irish won this weekend and advanced to the top five, so why worry about applications, theses and editorial columns? There’s a Bar Rescue marathon on Spike that needs your undivided attention for what some might call an excessive number of hours.
And there’s that Viewpoint column on international security affairs due at 5 p.m.
Work done at the last second tends to not be your best (unless you happen to be Ben Koyak in the back of an endzone). I enjoy writing Viewpoints and hate to have the byline on a sub-par piece, yet the clock ticked away.
It is here that I arrived at a series of conclusions regarding the Obama administration’s inept foreign policy, as exemplified by recent events in the Middle East. The region is a particularly useful case for examining the reactive, short-sighted and timid foreign policy of the Obama administration, just as it previously was for exploring the reactive, short-sighted and arrogant foreign policy of the Bush administration.
The Obama doctrine was summarized by the President himself several months ago. Ever the orator, President Obama, described his overriding foreign policy goal as “Don’t do stupid ****” and indicated that he did not believe such a goal was too difficult to achieve. That direct quote supplements more public statements he has made, which describe his foreign policy as utilizing a methodical, incremental and patient approach in addressing complex issues. President Obama seeks to focus on less ambitious goals over a longer-time period, achieving small to moderate successes. While this leads to the avoidance of attempts at nation-building, it also leads to presidential procrastination.
In attempt to avoid making egregious foreign policy mistakes, the Obama administration has fiddled while the Middle East burns. Aloof multilateralism is little better than audacious unilateralism. Throughout the Middle East, President Obama has ignored or devoted insufficient time and resources to a myriad of regional issues that are slowly consuming it from within.
In Syria, the President previously limited American involvement in a conflict in which numerous American allies, frenemies and adversaries have been highly active. From NATO member Turkey to the proxy war between American frenemy Saudi Arabia and rival Iran, the Syrian civil war has engaged every country in the Middle East in some way. It seems that every actor except the United States acknowledges that civil wars do not respect national boundaries and spillover is not only common, but highly likely. The rise of the Islamic State, the instability in Lebanon and Jordan, the existential threat posed to Iraq and the gains in Iranian and al-Qaeda influence are only a few of the threats to American interests posed by the Syrian civil war. Yet years of inaction have resulted in a reactionary, confused and insufficient response that will not, by itself, destroy the Islamic State. Despite all that is at stake, the President avoided action in Syria, moving only when all of Iraq was threatened.
Yet Syria is not the only issue receiving a delayed response. Ever since bombs ceased falling on the Gaza Strip, it seems that the President has all but forgotten the issue of Israel and Palestine. As the Palestinian Authority heads to the United Nations seeking the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the Occupied Territories, the American public is reminded once more that another American president has failed to address a thorny issue: the partition of Israel and Palestine. I say partition and not peace process because Israel cannot demographically absorb the territories. Partition is necessary for regional security, yet requires more than the Obama administration has been capable of delivering. Invariably, the issue will fall to the next president, likely resulting in yet further presidential procrastination.
Less often considered than either of these previous cases is the story of Yemen. Rather than “Winter is Coming,” I prefer “Yemen is collapsing.” Similar to “Game of Thrones,” people have been saying it for years, few have actually begun to prepare for it and their attention is fixed on larger conflicts. Yemen is falling apart before our very eyes, with its capital having recently fallen to Iran-backed rebels. It is predicted to run out of fresh water in a decade and the most active al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, already owns sizeable areas of southern Yemen. The world’s newest failed state, complete with its own al-Qaeda franchise, is on the horizon. Much like the introduction to my capstone essay, Obama’s Yemen policy is non-existent.
At least when I procrastinate, nations do not burn. It makes me feel slightly better about spending too much time with Jon Taffer. One has to wonder how Obama was with his own college homework.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.