Cornerstone Global Associates

Obama’s secret wars

Posted by: simona on: July 3, 2012

Simona Maria Ross, Cornerstone

This article is about Obama’s foreign policy strategies and his struggle to keep up in this fast moving and diffuse world. A world where criticism seems to be louder than support, but idealism never vanishes.

The Obama Doctrine announces that the administration is willing to use unilateral force in case of an immediate threat. Conversely, when the threat is minimal and the decision to act is based on a moral ground, as it was the case in Libya, the Obama administration is reluctant to step in. NATO leaders were surprised because they expected the United States to take a lead in addressing this conflict. After the resolution of the Libyan conflict, the international community seems to be frozen in its actions towards Syria. So far the Obama administration resisted in over-selling the Doctrine. Nonetheless, Obama will now have to protect his Doctrine and justify why he does not intervene in Syria. Crucial foreign policy decisions have to be reestablished in every single case. For instance, the decision to intervene in Libya was based on two historic events. First, the horrifying Genocide in Rwanda. In Rwanda, disengagement had devastating consequences and resulted in almost one million deaths in less than 300 days. Second, the military intervention in Afghanistan, where everyone wished the United States never chose to put their boots on the ground.

In contrast to Syria, the administration shows a high interest in Iran. The White House feels pressured by Israel to take action and address the threat stemming from Iran’s nuclear program. Iran accuses the United States and Israel of having launched a massive cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The cyber attack was part of a new military strategy initiated by the United States. Even though, the Obama administration applauds the efficiency of such attacks, there are still concerns about its enormous impact. A cyber attack on the United States would cause as much of a set back as a military strike. Israel assumes that economic sanctions and a diplomatic approach are insufficient in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Conversely, military engagement in Iran would cause as much damage to the nuclear program as the cyber attack did. Then again, is it inevitable that Iran will have nuclear weapons? The average Iranian does not care about the nuclear program; they are busy ensuring that their families are food secure. Over all, the Obama administration shows respect towards Iran’s wish of having nuclear plants for “peaceful purposes”. After all, Iran is a member of the nonproliferation treaty. The ultimate question is how the international community engages a country on the verge of having a nuclear weapons program. On one hand, there is no justification to intervene until a country is in possession of such technology; but on another hand, once a country obtains the ability to build a nuclear weapon, intervention becomes justified but difficult.

With reference to the war in Afghanistan, the United States continues to disregard Pakistan’s friendly “recommendation” to stop the transfer of military equipment within and across their borders. Before Obama came into office, he did not imagine the complexity of the conflict. Once in office he realized that accomplishing a successful military withdrawal and sustainable Afghan economic development is very intensive work. The United States military had difficulties taking Obama serious when he mentioned his plans to withdraw all troops by 2012. Nonetheless, Obama stood by his decision and refused to offer the military more time to clean up their mess. At some point, Obama was worried that the Taliban would possess weapons of mass destruction. This turned out to be false information from Pakistani Intelligence.

Some who followed Obama’s performance as a president wanted to know, how Obama would react towards unexpected events. The Arab Spring is the best example for such an unexpected event. In his early days in office, Obama had to support the removal of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As young president, who just recently entered office, it was challenging for Obama to face Mubarak. Mubarak is much older and has been in office for over 30 years. Moreover, the people in the Middle East had mixed opinions on whether Obama should intervene or honor the sovereignty of Middle Eastern countries.

On China; to confront a strong power that approaches the United States in a way China does, is challenging. Obama used bilateral engagement as foreign policy tool towards China. China on their side considered the approach as weakness of the United States and pushed back. China decided to invest in the security gap in the South-East Asian region. The South-East Asian region is strategically very critical. Thus, the United States gives this region a higher priority on their foreign policy agenda.

As it was the case in United States foreign relations to China, Obama’s administration preferred the policies of engagement as a tool to influence Russia. This strategy has been successful until Putin came into office. Putin publicly states that he opposes the United States dominance in global affairs. Hence, the policies of engagement are not always the best strategy to choose. To ally with countries that violate human rights, such as Russia, typically intensifies tensions rather than resolving them.

How does domestic policy interfere with Obama’s foreign policy? The United States Congress is reluctant to participate in foreign affairs. In fact, an active role in foreign affairs would mean that Congress can be held accountable for the outcome of its decision. In general, Congress has a particular passive position toward unpopular interstate-conflicts, such as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, Congress tends to show undivided interest towards domestic concerns.

Obama’s interactions with global leaders and his management of international affairs are influenced by his personal characteristics. Obama is a very conscious person and aims to find pragmatic and quick solutions to America’s challenges. However, this approach does not work in foreign policy. Obama has to show a strong appearance. When Obama came into office as a Senator who had no experience in foreign policy, he was open to all ideas in the room. The longer he was in office, the smaller became the circle of advisors. He became more confident about his own decisions.

Many people have been disappointed by Obama’s performance since he came into office, but none would have been capable of satisfying all expectations that people had from someone they saw as a god-like figure.