President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy is in danger of being viewed as an unmitigated disaster by future observers, John Hannah, senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in an op-ed Tuesday.
Hannah relied on three clear examples in assessing Obama’s seven-year foreign policy record, even including cases where he managed to succeed, namely the raid which took out Osama bin Laden, as well as the strike which killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-borne radical preacher for al-Qaida. For Hannah, part of the reason why the strikes have managed to obliterate senior terrorist leaders is because Obama has authorized 10 times the number of drone strikes as his predecessor George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, one-off hits don’t sum up the full extent of Obama’s foreign policy adventures. Rather, the Obama administration’s activity in the Middle East has resulted in one failure and withdrawal after another, but that didn’t stop Obama from touting his record in Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address. He even told America to “ask Osama” about his supposed success navigating national security issues.
Republicans and Hannah see things much differently. Here’s the three arenas Obama failed to mention during his SOTU.
Right after Obama announced a 30,000 troop surge to Afghanistan in 2009, he also added that they’d be pulled out in 18 months, effectively providing al-Qaida and the Taliban with enough mental stamina to last at least that long and to plan ahead.
“What successful military leader in the history of the world has ever done that?” Hannah asks his readers.
Afghanistan, at the time, was an abandoned disaster, even aside from revealing plans to the enemy in advance. It’s even worse now.
The country is awash in wasted aid programs and corruption. The Taliban is more ascendant in the country than any time since 2001. The Islamic State is also increasing its presence, and the U.S. only recently razed a 30-square-mile al-Qaida training camp, which was one of the largest ever to be created. Yet, Obama is still interested in withdrawing the 5,500 troops left to try and hold on to what stability remains.
The country, Hannah notes, was supposed to be the “poster child” for how good Democrats wage war, that is, with a “light footprint.” The efforts, almost universally noted, have instead been an unmitigated disaster.
The U.S. Air Force moved into Libya with enough air power to decisively shatter the Gadhafi regime, but as soon as the dust settled, U.S. leadership floundered in the post-stabilization process. Radical elements thrived in the power vacuum, spreading across the region. Libya is teetering on the edge of being a failed state, with the local Islamic State affiliate taking more and more territory, and with it, oil resources.
No bright, shiny democracy has evolved out of Libya, and some observers suspect that ISIS will use their ground as a launching pad for attacks in Europe. A brutal state has been replaced with even more atrocities and human rights abuses. While Gadhafi managed to keep the more militant elements of Islam at bay, the post-Gadhafi scene has provided the perfect opportunity for flourishing Islamic militancy.
- Islamic State
The Islamic State continues to break ground across the Middle East, though U.S. officials have insisted that the group has lost 40 percent of its territory since last year. Just as Obama claimed that ISIS was contained, the group managed to personally execute or inspire devastating terror attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California. Airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq have been strict in scope, so as to apparently avoid civilian casualties, though this comes with the trade-off of hampered effectiveness. While the U.S. has sat on the sidelines, Russia has emerged as the most active element in Syria in a bid to solidify its influence in the Middle East. In fact, the U.S. effort is viewed as so abysmal that many ordinary people in the Middle East believe the U.S. has a secret agreement with ISIS.
Obama’s time is not yet up. His foreign policy advisers have insisted that he does not intend to just let the clock run out on his presidency, but instead will push forward and “tackle crises piling up around the globe.” Officials formerly close to the White House, however, disagree, pointing to Obama’s strategy as one of containment and withdrawal of U.S. military might, even as geopolitical crises continue to unfold.
“This is a risk-averse president who sets red lines he doesn’t enforce,” Aaron David Miller, who formerly served as a Middle East adviser to GOP and Democratic administrations, told Reuters. “There’s not a lot of inclination for heroic initiatives in what’s left.”
Hannah more or less concurs with the assessment provided by Obama’s own former defense secretary Robert Gates, who wrote in his 2014 his memoir that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
For Hannah, there is no getting out, there is only getting worse.
He writes that just when “it didn’t seem like the mangling of American credibility could get any worse … it did. Paging Vladimir Putin!”
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