Foreign Policy: A 30,000 Foot View

The ongoing White House contention that they did not err in Somalia or Yemen and that their counter terrorism strategy is solid has reached the point of existing somewhere in the ether between laughable and incomprehensible. The incomprehensibility broadens when you rise to the 30,000 foot view of the Obama foreign policy which appears to be a strategy unbowed by facts and absent a cohesive set of tactics in support of said “strategy.” Strategy absent tactical imperatives carries no more import than a conversation in the faculty lounge.

In Egypt we supported Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Presidency. That same Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badi, in 2010, called for Jihad against the United States. Despite the wealth of information regarding the Brotherhood’s goals, ideology and tactics this was deemed by the Obama administration as a step forward even though the Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology was evident to anyone willing to undertake serious considerations. To this day members of the Brotherhood are entertained by the Obama administration. Upon Morsi’s removal by the Egyptian military and the ascendance of President al-Sisi we undertook to punish the segment of Egyptian society most connected to American interests and most respected by the Egyptian people; the Egyptian military. President al-Sisi’s contention that Islam must be reformed has had no impact on the Obama team’s thinking, nor has his courage moved the needle. An observant Muslim, al-Sisi argues for a reformation of radical ideology within Islam, taking his argument to the very center of that ideology, al Azhar University; the seat of Sunni jurisprudence. His efforts go begging as we continue to fund radicalized Islamists including Hamas and the PLO’s military wing. Al-Sisi clearly wants strong relations with America and in recent interviews he has underscored the importance of American leadership. He will, as will the rest of us, have 22 months to wait.

In Syria, we now appear ready to engage the “must go, don’t cross the red line; oh never mind” regime of Bashar al-Assad. Assad has played a clever game of keeping the two primary regime opponents, al Nusrah and ISIS, at each other’s throats as they have either defeated or consolidated the original moderate elements standing in opposition to al-Assad. Assad now faces off with radical elements and provides the self-justification that he too is fighting “the terrorists.” The situation appears to be evolving to the point where the administration’s best play is to support the formerly untouchable al-Assad as the alternative is Syria governed by either the al Qaeda affiliate or ISIS. He has gone from Hillary Clinton opining that al-Assad is a “reformer” to untouchable to the only guy it now makes sense to engage. This is, apparently the Obama administrations answer to a cohesive, forward thinking foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia, in a departure from their typical behaviors, has gone public with criticism of the U.S. both in terms of Syria and the pending nuclear deal with Iran. Saudi discontent is genuine based on the fact that Obama has simply reeled from one crisis to another absent any sense of cohesion. The punctuation came as Saudi Arabia undertook military operations in Yemen absent the advice and approval of the U.S. The coalition that the U.S. could have put together is now being assembled by the Saudis. The Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and possibly Turkey will oppose the Iran led coalition of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. What could possibly go wrong?

In Yemen we have been thrown out of town; while it was not quite a “helicopter on the roof of the embassy in Saigon” moment the result is essentially the same. Josh Earnest tells us we’re still coordinating with the legitimate government which at the moment is out at sea somewhere. Pass the sun screen.

Despite the violence and repression wrought by Jihadist forces, the Byzantine politics of the region, the rise of radical Islamic forces, a nuclear threat from Iran, failing relationships with the most significant players in the Middle East; ISIS, Hiz’bAllah, Hamas and the Syrian civil war our most strident criticism is reserved for …… wait for it …… Israel! The only country in the region that mirrors our democratic traditions and grants civil rights to all of its residents, Jew and Arab alike, is Israel but it is they that are the bad guys, the problem. Foreign policy and international relations should be constructed in the national interest not in the interest of petulance and pay back.

Turkey has engaged in a decade long slide toward Islamist principals. President Erdogan has been clear about where his politics is taking Turkey; “Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination.” That destination is an Islamist state. It worked in Iraq, it worked for Hamas and the PLO. We should recall as well that Turkey refused to support the alliance during the first Gulf War and similarly refuses to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iran. Turkey once the only example of a Middle Eastern country that constrained Islam with democratic secular governance has moved inexorably away from the secular and in no way supports the overall goals of the Western alliance it remains a part of.

Next to Israel, the Kurds are, despite their disappointments with us, allies. All they ask is to allow them to fight stolen American ordinance and weapons with equivalent American ordinance and weapons. They will take on ISIS for us as they already have. We are, unfortunately, again dysfunctional. It is true the Kurds want more significance independence from the central Iraqi government than they have; who wouldn’t? We apparently fear displeasure in dysfunctional Baghdad more so than we fear the onward march of ISIS.

Iraq is falling apart, if you believe that there still truly is an Iraq. Iran has long been a power in the south and in Baghdad, they have now moved to the north to take on ISIS in support of, eventually, Bashar al Assad and more notably the Shia majority in Iraq. The recognition that Iran has been at war with us for over two decades is absent; that recognition pollutes our ability to clearly judge our and Iran’s self-interests.

Libya saw its strongman removed over trumped up charges. The tribal politics and conflicts so long kept under control by Gaddafi are now in full bloom with the added flavor of foreign fighters that see yet another possibility for same haven based on a leadership void.

In Afghanistan, where we fought the “good war”, we appear to be willing to beg the Taliban to negotiate with us. I may be missing something but aren’t those the guys who helped motivate us to fight the “good war” to begin with, based on their refusal to give up bin Laden? Nothing has changed with the Taliban except they have perhaps grown stronger. Afghanistan will return to what it was before we got there; a medieval, repressive, Sharia based safe haven for radicalism. Exactly what Pakistan wants as it allows them to concentrate on India to the East with no significant threat from a U.S. controlled Afghanistan to the West.

Iran is by far the most significant threat to the region and beyond. We are, to appearances, on the verge of surrendering to Iranian demands in the current negotiations. Yes folks, we buried our “peaceful” nuclear program 3,000 feet down under a mountain with over 2,000 centrifuges running material to 20% enrichment. Hmmmm?

As exhausted as we may be with America’s policing role around the world and the lack of apparent appreciation for the effort, the alternatives are worse. The current day Middle East would be proof of that contention as the declining role of America empowers radicalized and imperial behaviors. Crimea and Ukraine re as important for the messages they send as for the geopolitical challenges they represent. The message is that the U.S. is disengaged and so fears the need for harsh engagement that Vlad Putin, Ali Khamenei and their like are empowered to continually test the limits of American patience and will. In their world it truly is a zero sum game and our disengagements are, for them, a hand delivered opportunity to expand influence without fear of reprisal or significant costs. We have been tested, we have failed! The failure was foreshadowed by the reversal of our commitment to anti-missile technology in Poland and the Czech Republic. The motivation for our reversal was little more than incessant Russian whining. If whining is a winning strategy capable of altering American commitments and self-interests, why worry about the response to invasions?

Will bad behavior continue; yes of course it will. For the past six years, if you’re not Israel, there is no significant price to pay for foreign incursions, support of terrorism, genocide, pogroms against Christians or an illegal nuclear program. We are willing to negotiate with Iran and the Taliban but we do so within the context of projected weakness and disengagement. Oh, you may get a “strongly worded letter” or a twitter hash tag campaign, maybe even a Presidential statement. So far those tactics do not appear to be striking fear into the hearts of those who oppose us!

Life lessons teach that when you are responsible for management of large issues or groups of people fear is a component. While those relationships should not be based on fear, the absence of some degree of fear nearly guarantees a lack of serious accountability. Fail to perform, ignore the rules, or demonstrate bad judgment and you will face consequences; that sense of fear is currently absent from American foreign policy, replaced with the continual desire for “engagement” undirected by a cohesive set of strategic imperatives. 22 months and counting!