Heritage Foundation – More Nonsense on Obama’s Foreign Policy

obama oval office
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Oval Office, March 1, 2013. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken listen at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Heritage Foundation is holding in mid-March a meeting with the improbably, but typical title “U.S. Foreign Policy Adrift.”  You can easily guess what that is all about and the following quote from their announcement tells it all:

“Even before taking office, President Obama began laying out in his public statements the tenets of a doctrine, that if enacted, would enable his Administration to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.  These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.  Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.”

If you are wondering if this meeting might be a worthwhile way to spend your time, my suggestion is that you can skip it as it is the same old cold war mongering, “war party,” and neo-con claptrap.

But, what is interesting is that Heritage has clearly not done any thinking about the significant changes to the geopolitical and security landscape of the last forty years. They are playing the same old tune now as if the Soviet Union had never gone away. Remember, it was their blind clamoring for irresponsible war in Iraq with tragic consequences for all. They are now still selling war, more war and yet more war. Now it is Iran, North Korea, and we know not what may be next?

Let’s for the fun of it look at each of their key statements above:

The first silly statement is that: The Obama “Administration [wants] to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.”  They use the word “responsibility” as if going to war unilaterally was a legitimate “responsibility.” The use of this word is an effort to legitimatize what is really irresponsible and dangerous behavior of America, which has proven costly and counterproductive in the global arena.

Obama’s approach, which has clearly increased American true responsibility and leverage in the world in the past four years, is to try to work with others on common goals and solutions.  Its objective is specifically to do so in ways that does not foolishly commence massive unilateral military intervention and expand conflicts and the consequences of casualties both of our own and of civilians – it is in my words trying early “collective preventive diplomacy.”  It is diplomats and international organizations and allies on the ground rather than American boots as a preferred option. This is ‘smart power’ not “stupid power.” It does not mean a “never” on the use of military force as Obama has made clear. The Libyan intervention was a good example of this new multilateral approach, with our help especially in taking out Gadaffi’s air arm and defense capabilities and helping our NATO and other allies with logistics and intelligence…..with few U.S. military on the ground.  Our allies carried out the bulk of our military action both in the air and on the ground.

The second silly and even dangerous statement is: “These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.” This is an insidious effort to equate cooperation with and in international organizations or cooperation with our allies by getting their participation as a sign of weakness.   It is clearly just the opposite. The irony is that GOP Congressional types have long criticized our allies for not carrying more of the defense burden, but now that Obama has succeeded in forming coalitions of others to work with us, they see it as a “weakness.” Hypocrisy is probably the right word for this. In fact, this is an added strength for American leadership, which as the military uses the word, is a “force multiplier.”  This clearly is not a concept the right wing security types know much about.  

Finally, their statement that: “Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.” 

Here lies, more lies, and dammed lies are in this statement.  Before Obama took office we were engaged in two costly and long-standing wars. One of “choice,” that was a total disaster in Iraq. The other was dragging on in the incompetence of the Bush II administration for more than a decade and will now largely end in 2014. We had not yet gotten neither Bin Laden nor his network and lost the chance to kill Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains at the start of the war by committing troops to Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan where the 911 terrorism leadership was based. Obama developed a new approach in Afghanistan that included going after the Al-Qaeda’s network with much success to where it has been on the run and in disarray rather than on “the rise.” The Middle East was in trouble for decades and the new changes were inevitable and the outcomes still uncertain and the spark of democracy in some countries still newly alive. Obama’s administration is in fact highly involved in this as exemplified in the recent trip by Secretary Kerry to the region, taking with him new initiatives and policies.  

As for North Korea, China and Russia these have been challenges for decades, including in the 1970s under Henry Kissinger when I worked on his Policy Planning Staff.  At least Kissinger reached out to China and established relations and thus opened the path to real dialogue and some cooperation. China under Obama has been helping us on a recent vote on Syria and now on support in the Security Council on North Korea. Russia agreed with Obama on the New START treaty, voted for action in Libya, permits us to transit into Afghanistan, and cooperates both on terrorism issues and we hope on Iranian nuclear problems. Both China and Russia have been “problems” for decades (see our earlier blogs), but the Heritage types do not say that Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Bush I and II were “weak” on American leadership.      

In sum, let’s see the world as it is, note that intractable problems won’t be solved by more wars, and that “preventive diplomacy,” peacemaking, and creative multilateral cooperation are signs that “smart” power is back in the White House. Challenges will persist, even beyond the Obama years one can bet, but we are not in a more dangerous world for working on these dangers creatively and with care rather than trying to blindly bomb them. 

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

Obama’s Dilemma: He can’t please the Doves nor the Hawks. But seeks a middle course and keeps his word

President Obama has a difficult set of options to choose from in his effort to draw down our troops in Afghanistan and at the same time leave that country in a responsible way — but as soon as can be managed. He needs to provide for regional stability and security which is a vital interest of this nation given the nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The latter is the elephant in the room that only a few commentators are talking about or addressing seriously.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of pure right-wing hawks are wrong in their criticism of Obama’s “moderate” decision and their push for an “endless war.”   They have shown blindness to the difficult situation in Afghanistan and the need for an “end point” in our present strategy.  But a lot of doves are wrong in not dealing honestly with alternative policies and consequences to address the realistic threats to our regional and global security. 

Obama’s speech was short and, frankly, a bit vague on specifics and broad policy.  I suspect that the administration is still now trying to assess their options and work the diplomatic front. They want to keep, for a time, some of their leverage in the region. They fear, rightly, a form of high instability, chaos, and dangers in the region.  They fear what has been described as “precipitous withdrawal,” as opposed to a steady withdrawal related to “facts on the ground,” which is a phrase that the military uses, and leaving with some hope that a kind of stable governance and security can be created. Some silliness has recently been written about the Nixon withdrawal or retreat – choose your own words – in Vietnam as a model.  But the main concern remains that Pakistan does not fall into a terrorist playground and worse.

My judgment is that Obama chose the least worst option while keeping his promise to make a significant drawdown and was firm about the next stages of that action. The military wanted just 3,000 to leave at the end of the year and the doves wanted an almost impossible 30,000. They got that and a bit more for the end of 2012.

That gives America time to continue to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al -Qaeda.  The military can continue to try to establish areas of security and perhaps a bit of local government and still train a poor yet slightly more effective army and police. Those who think that will never occur reasonably want out, but they fail to acknowledge the price of that simple withdrawal option on our larger interests in the region, which go far beyond Afghanistan itself. 

The hawks are making an impossible case with their idea that we can keep largely 100,000 combat troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. They are either crazy or they are playing politics and especially trying to bring Obama down on the war issue with our national security and the lives of our soldiers at stake. There is little doubt that we do not need that number on the ground if we are seeking reasonable stability and preventing terrorists to freely attack us or our allies from Afghanistan. Obama, I believe, understands that but is looking at what can only be described as a most complex and dangerous region still at a crossroad and wants to act with great care. His approach has shown great caution against acting hastily and keeping his options open.

That may not be a bad approach, but it remains for the moment still inadequate until a strategy and consequent policies and actions are taken to implement a wider resolution to the region’s dangers. This means a “full court press” on establishing a regional settlement that addresses the conflicting motivations and concerns of the regional actors.

The critics are right, however, that the present Afghanistan government is corrupt and is probably the largest stumbling block to some kind of national reconciliation and reasonable government authority. It is not likely to be better than what we see today without some radical “re-engendering.” And I am not sure that we can create this by 2014. But the reality is we need a strategy that gets us to some measure of security in the region and has us withdraw our combat forces in a deliberate but steady way as we set in place our creative diplomacy to create some reasonable security and political order.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

America’s Costliest War by Bill Hartung

America’s Costliest War
by Bill Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy
Published in the Huffington Post on April 5, 2011

Congress, the media, and the public are rightly asking whether America should be spending $1 billion or more on the intervention in Libya at a time of fiscal austerity. One member of Congress has even proposed that the mission be offset dollar for dollar by cuts in domestic programs (leaving the Pentagon and related security programs off limits).

While this newfound attention to the costs of U.S. global military operations is welcome, focusing on Libya alone misses the mark. The $1 billion in projected spending on Libya is just one tenth of one percent of the over $1 trillion the United States has spent so far on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Looked at another way, the likely costs of the Libyan mission are the equivalent of less than four days of spending on the war in Afghanistan.

And that’s the point. Those genuinely concerned about war costs need to go where the money is — Afghanistan. The Pentagon has asked for $113 billion to fight the war there for this year, roughly two and one-half times what has been requested to support the United States’ dwindling commitment in Iraq. That gap will only increase as troop numbers in Iraq continue to fall. To put this in some perspective, the entire Gross Domestic Product of Afghanistan is about $29 billion per year, which means that annual U.S. expenditures on the war are nearly four times the value of the entire Afghan economy. That number would obviously change if the drug economy were taken into account, but it is stunning nonetheless. Continue reading