Donald Trump’s March 21st meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post demonstrates authoritatively he has repudiated the legacy of muscular internationalism Ronald Reagan epitomized. Trump’s foreign policy views more closely resemble President Obama’s dangerous doctrine volitionally diminishing American power while downplaying the virtues of American values -- demoralizing democratic friends, emboldening repressive foes, and lowered the barriers to aggression everywhere. Trump’s insistence that the United States must turn its attention inward because the country “is in really bad shape” sounds ominously, too, like the isolationist America Firsters who fecklessly opposed American intervention in World War II.
Robert G. Kaufman | All Articles
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Robert G. Kaufman
Robert G. Kaufman is a political scientist specializing in American foreign policy, national security, international relations, and various aspects of American politics. Kaufman received his JD from Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., and his BA, MA, M. Phil., and PhD from Columbia University in the city of New York.
Kaufman has written frequently for scholarly journals and popular publications, including The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The Washington Times, the Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He is the author of three books. His most recent book In Defense of the Bush Doctrine was published by the University Press of Kentucky in May 2007. In 2000, his biography, Henry M Jackson: A Life in Politics received the Emil and Katherine Sick Award for the best book on the history of the Pacific Northwest. His first book, Arms Control During the Prenuclear Era, which Columbia University Press published, studied the interwar naval treaties and their linkage to the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. Kaufman also assisted President Richard M. Nixon in the research and writing of Nixon’s final Book, Beyond Peace. He is currently in the research phase of a biography of President Ronald Reagan, focusing on his presidency and his quest for it.
Kaufman is a former Bradley Scholar and current adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation. He has taught at Colgate University, The Naval War College, and the University of Vermont.
Judging from his recent lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, President Obama has learned nothing in the past seven years from the serious, serial failures of his foreign policy. Instead, Obama radiated a preternatural, delusional, and typical self-confidence expounding on the efficacy of his Obama Doctrine, which he has followed faithfully since 2009.
On Fourth of July, Americans celebrated the freedom embodied in the Declaration of Independence our founders fought heroically to achieve in the American Revolution. Never take that freedom for granted. Nor be indifferent or hostile to the fate of free peoples struggling against tyranny or the threat of annihilation. That goes for America’s democratic allies, Ukraine, Taiwan, and democratic Israel, which is surrounded by fanatical regimes bent on eradicating it.
President Obama’s foreign policy has entered a more perilous phase since Republicans thrashed the Democrats in the midterm elections this November. Freed from the constraints of electoral politics, the lame duck Obama administration appears poised to intensify pressure on Israel to make unprecedented and improvident concessions.
On Sunday Berlin celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall --- a smashing triumph for freedom and a fatal blow to a radically evil, existentially dangerous Soviet tyranny that had menaced the world since its inception.
Add an increasingly hostile Turkey to the list of the Obama administration’s serial failures in the Middle East. Turkey continues to prevaricate about whether to allow the United States to use it bases in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Turkish President Recip Tayyip Ergodan had demanded that toppling the government of President Bashir al-Assad trump the Obama administration’s priority of defeating ISIS.
Asia has eclipsed Europe as the world’s paramount center of power -- demographically, economically, politically, and militarily. So the United States must prevent hostile powers from dominating this region for the same reasons that dictated American intervention to defeat Germany in both world wars of the 20th century and the policy of containment to thwart the Soviet Union’s insatiable ambitions during the Cold War. For such a colossus would possess overwhelming resources to imperil the vital interests of the United States, not only in Asia, but beyond.
If the meek shall inherit the earth, President Obama belongs in a tiny apartment. Candidate Obama boasted on New Hampshire Public Radio in November 2007 that his becoming president would immediately improve America’s standing in the Islamic world. Obama envisaged himself pompously as a "bridge,” not only to reconcile the races at home, but America to the world, according to his admiring biographer David Remnick.
The philosopher and poet George Santayana warned famously that “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” President Obama’s speech to the United Nations of September 24th radiates an alarming cluelessness about the lessons of history and how his feckless foreign policy has made the problems he describes significantly worse.
The understandable preoccupation with ISIS has deflected attention from an even greater danger -- a revolutionary, implacably anti-American Iran close to having the capacity to build nuclear weapons. As Henry Kissinger warned recently, “there has come into being a Shia belt from Tehran through Baghdad. And this gives the opportunity to construct a Persian empire, this time under the Shia label. I think the conflict with ISIS — manageable as it is -- is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran.”
President Obama’s ISIS Address takes a necessary though contingent step in the right direction. On the positive side, the president declared unambiguously why the United States must defeat ISIS after months of denying and underestimating the threat. He prepared the American people for a campaign of long duration, outlining a four-part strategy for achieving victory entailing airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and supporting military partners on the ground. Obama pledged finally to arm “moderate” elements of the Syrian opposition, an option that he had long resisted and disparaged as recently as a month ago to in an interview with Tom Friedman of the New York Times, calling the notion that arming Syrian rebels would have made the difference “a fantasy."
Never underrate nor overrate the power of rhetoric in politics. The eloquence of Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt amplified their greatness, generating critical public support for their towering achievements. Conversely, President Obama’s penchant for prevarication and vacillation has invited aggression globally. For instance, the president’s recent admission that the administration does not yet have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) defanged the strong language of his Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, who labeled ISIS a grave threat the U.S. must defeat.
The barbaric beheading of journalist James Foley has underscored the malevolence of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), stunning an Obama administration that has heretofore been complacent. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned ominously that ISIS constitutes a greater threat to the West than Al Qaeda. “They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether in Iraq or anywhere else,” Hagel said at a news conference at the Pentagon. Army General Martin Dempsey called ISIS an “organization that has an apocalyptic end of days strategic vision.” President Obama referred to ISIS as a “cancer" and vowed to do whatever it takes to protect American interests.
Remember how Senator Obama used to blame George W. Bush for rising Anti-Americanism in Europe? Remember Obama hectoring Bush for lecturing rather than listening and for acting unilaterally without compunction? Remember Obama promising to heal the breach between the United States and our European allies by acting “in partnership” and showing “humility?”
President Obama subverts American and humanitarian interests demanding an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire in Gaza. The cost and risk of future war will increase exponentially unless Israel defeats Hamas decisively.
The fight for the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination has already begun. The acrimonious debate between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Rand Paul over Reagan’s legacy indicates that foreign policy will loom large in determining who wins the nomination and the trajectory of America’s role in the world.
Barack Obama has proved again to be the veritable anti-Reagan of American politics. Contrast President Reagan’s response after Soviet fighter aircraft downed a Korean civilian airliner on September 1, 1983 with Obama’s reaction after pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 298 aboard.
The Obama presidency lies in shambles. Few presidents have promised more, delivered less, or done more damage. The economy limps along anemically -- the weakest recovery from a recession in history. Rising taxes, suffocating regulation, soaring domestic spending, and voraciously expanding entitlements have deep-chilled growth, innovation, and the creation of new jobs. The administration has tenaciously impeded the exploitation of huge energy reserves that could transform the U.S. into an energy exporter.
William F. Buckley, the great conservative author, pundit, and founder of National Review, harbored no illusions about “progressive” intellectuals. As a conservative professor with no illusions about my native Bostonians, I venerate the wisdom of Buckley’s famous dictum: “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”