The Foreign Affairs Reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Trudy Rubin, appearing Friday morning on "On Point with Tom Ashbrook" on NPR, gave a rather negative comparison of the Obama who spoke in Berlin as a presidential candidate, in 2008, with the President Obama, who spoke on the eastern side of the Berlin wall earlier this week. Weakened, dimmed, and ineffectual for many reasons, ran her argument. She accused him of having done 'nothing' to achieve leverage in the Syrian civil war and of failing to achieve leverage in the negotiations with the Taliban, coming too late in the those talks. She also pointed to Obama's reference to reducing nuclear weapons by a third, in his Berlin speech, as something that is not at the top of the agenda for U.S. foreign policy, demonstrating that Obama has lost his way in foreign policy.
Generally, Ms Rubin concludes the Obama foreign policy is a failure.
Let's take a closer look.
In Lybia, Obama worked with allies to overthrow the dictator.
In Egypt, Obama wondered out loud if Morsi and his Islamic Brotherhood were actually allies of the U.S., something that is still unclear.
In Syria, it turns out that the CIA have been training the rebel forces for some time, although the information went public only this week. Obama has also been providing considerable humanitarian aid to refugees, both directly and through neighbours Jordan and Turkey whose countries have been the 'catch-basins' for those refugees, over their borders with Syria. Rubin alleges that Putin will not be moved from his position of support for the Syrian dictator, Assad, and that his body language in Ireland, appearing on television with Obama, was another indication of the failure of the Obama foreign policy, because Putin does not have to take the U.S. and Obama seriously when Obama asks him to join in ousting Assad.
It is true that Putin has delivered on his commitment of S-300 missiles to Assad, and that Iran and Hezbollah have both continued their active support of the regime in Syria.
However, for the U.S. along with Britain and France, and other European countries to attack Assad on behalf of the rebels in Syria could result in a larger conflict the implications of which are extremely difficult to contemplate. And the army of scholars who hold such a view is quite large.
The years between 2000 and 2009 when George W. Bush was president saw the U.S. wrecklessly engage in two unfunded and increasingly unpopular wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have cost dearly in American dollars and in human lives to both death and serious, long-term deformaties.
And that does not even put onto the table the emotional and domestic costs in divorce and suicides of military personnel as a direct consequence of both campaigns. And not incidentally, neither war achieved much more than to depose Saddam Hussein, and to provide blatant and obvious and very compelling arguments for terrorist recruitment by the Islamic radical movements, some of whom are complicating the Syrian conflict.
Who wants Islamic radicals to gain possession of American arms supplied originally to the Syrian rebels?
There is a news story bouncing around the air waves, and the print media, that both then Secretary of State Clinton and then Secretary of Defence Panetta believed there was a time when segmenting of the rebels into "good guys" and "bad guys" in Syria was possible, and that arming the "good guys" at that time was both feasible and worth doing. Obama rejected their recomnendation, according to the recent news reports. Obama's continuing resistance to another military engagement, even of modest measures, in Syria, fits with the American people's fatigue with war, and with his attempt to restore America to international respectability on the world stage. Pugilism, hawkishness, and a quick trigger-finger, hallmarks of the Dubya administration, are not a legacy Obama wishes to leave to his successor, even though he was prompted to assert to Charlie Rose, earlier this week, on CBS, "I am not Dick Cheney!"
There were a couple of callers to the Ashbrook program who helped to put the question of American "position" in the world in perspective. One called representing a group known as "Come Home America" which believes that American gun-diplomacy has been too costly and has achieved too little. Another caller pointed out that 'America has to get used to a reduced influence in world affairs, given her struggling economy, her exhausted military, her failures in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and the rise of both China and India.
There is an insatiable appetite for instant answers to extremely complicated problems, both in personal lives and in national and international diplomacy in the United States. "I want it and I want it now!" runs the juvenile, even childish, narcissistic cry, from all ages, and from all quarters. And being the world's "Super Power" at least in their own minds, means that whatever American wants, America will get sooner or later. Unfortunately, the appetite for instant gratification is unsustainable, both personally and internationally. Limited perspectives, dependent on shibboleths that have run their course, and are not longer relevant, are no longer serving the United States and significant adjustments must be made.
Obama, now unleashed from further pandering to the voter for election or re-election, is determined to maintain what to many must seem an "unAmerican" approach of caution, restraint, and the holding back of the U.S. military tsunami, which, if unleashed, could and would devastate everything in its path.
For literally centuries, gun-boat diplomacy, or "guns-and-butter" have been key components of American foreign policy along with "boots on the ground" and for a long time, the world has benefitted from such international muscle. In Europe, in Asia, in Korea that was true. In VietNam, not so much. In Afghanistan and Iraq even less. And the long-term lessons have to be weighing in the president's decisions.
A superb orator, can Obama through his continuous deployment of the bully-pulpit, help to transform American stereotypes of hard power and military might into more modest and more sustainable and more collaborative models of relationship, without emboldening the opponents like Russia and China and radical Islam, while also bringing domestic hawks like John McCain and Lindsay Graham along to his vision.
So far, Obama has focused on individual terrorist targets, with some success through his drone and intelligence policies and practices. His "state-to-state" interactions with both China and Russia have left some like Trudy Rubin savagely critical, apparently fearing the U.S. will be taken advantage of by opponents who believe Obama is weak. In the short run, there may be some minor losses of "face" and of dents to the super-power mask. However, in the long-run, Obama's foreign policy, based as it is and has to be, on a realpolitik assessment of his own country's vested interests, and not merely on the acquisition of more oil, or more superficial and manipulable friends who can and will be "bought" with U.S. dollars, the real currency of historic American foreign policy, could have the long-term impact of demonstrating to the American people that their purse and their AK-47 are not enough to keep them secure. It will take nuanced diplomacy, complicated theoretical research and planning and a commitment to a world of international collaboration and compromise, something his political opponents have demonstrated they are not interested in learning or using for the good of the American people in Congress, and the healthy functioning of their beacon-on-the-hill democracy which Republicans have virtually extinguished in their racist and pig-headed and relentless undermining of every single initiative proferred by the current occupant of the White House. In so doing, Republicans have perhaps permanently tarnished the American reputation for healthy democracy around the world where their example has been for so long, an inspiration to many.