by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In 1979, after two full years of Jimmy Carter’s reset foreign policy — and after the president’s “malaise” speech and the surreal attack by the aquatic rabbit — various risk-takers concluded that the United States had decided that it either could not or would not intercede against aggression. In short order, the Chinese invaded Vietnam; the Sandinistas seized power in Nicaragua, and Central America descended into a Communist miasma; the Iranians took U.S. hostages in Tehran; terrorists stormed Mecca; the Soviets invaded Afghanistan — and, after that last event, President Carter confessed that he had undergone “a dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are.” …
… We are on such a precipice now, as the perception grows that Barack Obama is mired in scandal, an economy that has been stagnant throughout his tenure, and a disastrous foreign policy. It does no good to speculate whether critics at home are right in thinking that Barack Obama is “weak” in his foreign policy. Nor is there any point in arguing whether Obama believes that the U.S. is exceptional only in the relativist sense that Greece believes it is exceptional, or whether, as he stated more recently, he believes the U.S. is exceptional in absolute terms “with every fiber of [his] being.”
The point is not what we Americans think. Instead, the world abroad, fairly or not, has concluded after five and a half years that the Obama administration is both sanctimonious and absolutely risk averse. Translated, that means the administration likes to give sonorous and platitudinous sermons that needle both our friends and our enemies, but without any intention of seeing them followed by consequences. When Obama in a variety of ways assures the world that he is not George W. Bush, this does not always reassure America’s allies that he is resolute or warn our enemies that he is formidable.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that every foreign-policy initiative the Obama administration has embraced has failed: reset with Russia, the Cairo-speech outreach to Islam, surging in Afghanistan and promising to leave, the confusion over Egypt, lead-from-behind in Libya, bombing scheduled and then abruptly canceled in Syria, pulling every soldier out of Iraq, redefining jihadism through an array of euphemisms, abandoning the tough sanctions against Iran, pressuring the Israelis, a new special relationship with Turkey, and on and on. …
… Before Obama leaves office, we will see either some sort of Carter-like about-face in U.S. foreign policy, or aggression of a sort not seen since 1979 — or both.