When President Barack Obama began his campaign in 2007, he offered a carrot as his approach to America’s foreign policy rather than a stick. Five years later, terrorists have murdered an ambassador and set fire to our embassies. Obama’s approach deserves much of the blame.
“I think the world will have confidence that I am listening to them and that our future and our security is tied up with our ability to work with other countries in the world that will ultimately makes us safer,” he said in an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio.
In 2008, the former senator established himself as a soft power candidate, committed to steering America away from Bush’s hard power diplomacy. He distanced himself from the war in Iraq, our military-industrial complex, and Bush’s “politics of fear.”
In practice, Obama’s foreign policy has not only extended the Bush doctrine but even surpassed it. He has pushed America further down the path of empire. Obama’s liberal interventionism is simply Bush’s neoconservatism by another name. Instead of closing military bases, he added them in Colombia, Chile, and Hondouras. Drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have continued. Guantanamo Bay remains open. Instead of a safer, friendlier world, we have more of the same turmoil and intervention.
Over 9/11, waves of unrest wracked the Middle East. In Egypt, where the Obama administration pushed Mubarak to step down, the new Islamist government has offered an inadequate reaction to the anti-American violence in the streets. In Libya, a terrorist group suffocated and killed our ambassador, Chris Stevens. Across the globe, embassies supportive of America face violent protests. But while the Middle East burns, Obama does nothing. Despite his previous action, he now wants to adhere to his soft power promises.
This is Obama’s gravest foreign policy problem: he does foreign policy like Tim Tebow does football. Neither the offense nor the defense know what he will do next. (Tebow wins, though. Metaphors can only go so far, OK?) Likewise, neither our enemies nor our friends know what the U.S. will do next. Obama’s foreign policy is markedly erratic.
The Obama administration does not know if Egypt is our ally, enemy, or “frenemy.” Although the president ended the invasion of Iraq, he increased the military presence in Afghanistan, now the longest war in American history. He still finds a way to distinguish between the two wars. Somehow. He dove headfirst into the Libya conflict with his wildly unconstitutional executive order to bomb Muammar Gaddafi. But the president has distanced himself from the Syrian conflict. For some reason.
His policies lack a cohesive narrative. Yes, Bush began the 21st century with messianic nationalism. But at least we knew what to expect.