Thursday, October 04, 2012

Obama's amateurish foreign policy

Many article nowadays analyze Obama's foreign policy. Some put the accent on the realism: Obama's policy is not that different from the latter years of Bush jr. Others stress Obama's lack of personal relations with other world leaders.

One remarkable thing were the "leaks" that Obama is personally involved in the selection of targets for the drones. I see that as a regrettable form of micromanagement. It gives me a chilly feeling: Obama seems proud of his power to decide over life and death. But the downside are many. His close involvement robs him of the ability to see alternatives to drone attacks and leads him to ignore the weaknesses of the intelligence. It leads to a lack of interest in the big picture - as became painfully obvious when Obama refused to meet world leaders during the yearly UN session.

Then there is the Arab Spring. Obama felt that he had missed an opportunity with the Green Revolution in Iran and so he was determined not to miss the boat in Tunisia. But while he was right in feeling that this was more than a short uprising his understanding of how revolutions work is zero. And in seeing every uprising as a first step towards democracy he was rather mistaken. Democracy is more than voting. It needs freedom and a rule of law as a basis to function. Unfortunately revolutions break the rule of law and create a climate where power comes from the mouth of a gun. Obama could have intervened as a mediator between government and protesters interested in creating a climate with more freedom and in the end elections. But it looks like Obama finds it very hard to bring up the humility that is demanded from a mediator. Instead he showed the hubris of calling for the departure of Mubarak and Assad - blatantly ignoring international law. In Libya he sent his bombers and refused any negotiated solution. And now he is astonished about the anarchy...

The mistake to mention a date of departure in Afghanistan is well known. But his handling of Iraq - where he failed to achieve an agreement that guaranteed US influence - falls in the same category. In both cases there is an absence of a long term vision.

Then there is the "Eastern pivot": the move of troops to Eastern Asia to counter Chinese influence. It was clear that Chinese nationalism was getting obnoxious and something had to be done. But I found it disturbing that Obama turned to sable rattling while he didn't use more peaceful means to influence Chinese public opinion. It was even more distasteful as the policy was rather hollow: most of those troop moves simply meant returning soldiers who had been moved to Iraq in the previous years.

Obama claimed for a short time to want a dialogue with Iran. But his words weren't matched by his actions - he simultaneously worsened the sanctions. Obama seems also unfamiliar with the idea that trust needs to be deserved and built and that that takes time. Since Obama gave up on Iran he has behaved like a revengeful rejected lover.

Obama's Africa policy is a story of neglect. Only the conflict between Sudan and South-Sudan got some serious attention. While in some other places like Latin America the off-hands approach is welcomed after the aggressive Bush that is not the case in Africa.

Obama had little experience with foreign policy when he became president. But he could have repaired that by outsourcing it to someone who did know. Unfortunately it looks like Obama loves the power to much to hand it over. This has led to a focus on rather unimportant things like drone strikes and an overcommitment to the Arab Spring. On many subjects he has no vision and he seems incapable of the cool steadiness that is so necessary for results. It looks like the situation has hurt Hillary Clinton. After a few years as Secretary of State she looks much older and reportedly speaks in a monotonous way. What bothers her we may never know and she is too much the loyal good soldier to quit.

Postscript: This article (Inside Obama's Decisions: From Libya To Lunch) only strengthened my impression. The idea that he saved 100,000 Libyan lives is rather presumptuous but Obama doesn't show any sign of doubt. And leaving decisions about clothing and eating to others may sound wise but at the same time it raises the specter of a monomaniac who is so focused on his job that he is losing the perspective. Together is raises the impression of a president who is hopelessly dependent on his staff.

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