Because the President’s dealings in the Middle East are utterly incomprehensible and erratic, one could surmise that his guiding principles amount to patchwork foreign policy–a patchwork of incongruent executive initiatives taken from the predecessors of his choosing. A policy of piecemeal executive orders and convoluted pronouncements modeled after his suited objectives rather than those of national interest. A patchwork of policies that make for one gnarly-looking quilt.
Mr. Obama, with his affinity for setting himself apart as a change agent, has an insatiable need to redesign the federal government and separate himself from the nation’s sins of the past. He routinely disavows the men who held the office before him. He disparages previous executive decisions for lacking the fortitude of his quasi-intelligence. He makes attempt after attempt to exempt himself from the culpability of his own decision making – even exempting his own senatorial voting record on issues of foreign policy and national security. He withholds empathy for predecessors who had to make executive decisions under harrowing circumstances of great national consequence. This is the very same man who lifts portions of policy from previous presidents then masks them as his own. He further augments lifted policy with qualifiers of tactical blame given the possibility of failure upon his implementation.
The White House enacts policies failed or otherwise with the mindset that this president has the wherewithal to execute them in a smarter, better way.
President Obama routinely peppers his foreign policy with pinches of Bush, Carter and Clinton. Stunned with the President‘s Rose Garden remarks on Syria, former Bush press secretary, Dana Perino noted, “President Obama …actually takes wholesale paragraphs from that speech that President [Bush] argued…and actually puts it into Obama’s own words.” One would be hard pressed to find differences between this president’s homeland security policy and Bush’s. Obama quotes Reagan, trust but verify without attribution; without any intention of backing it. He is Carteresque in his Iranian diplomatic efforts and inserts his last name into Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan.
Obama, much like Carter before him, chastises cowboy raconteurs for living in a fantasy world where the simple minded cannot comprehend the complex global changes of foreign policy. They live in a make believe world. A world of good guys and bad guys, where some politicians shoot first and ask questions later.
Nonetheless the lack of a clearly defined, actionable foreign policy is maddening not only to foreign leaders but to those of us at home. How will this president act? One never knows. Foreign policymakers are hard pressed to draw counter plans for reactionary ambiguity and risk aversive retreats. World leaders should be able to surmise at this point in the second term that Mr. Obama does not govern with a clear set of policies. Rather he scours the pages of history to conjure up plans to make his own. He is playing a ruling class version of Blind Man‘s Bluff.
Case in point, President Obama’s Syrian, Egyptian (insert a MENA country) policy is nothing more than splices of Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs model. Better yet, his Muslim outreach program bears a striking resemblance to Kennedy’s Operation Mongoose.
(Order up a Spicoli special because we’re going to learn about Cuba…)
Backstory: enter the newly elected, eloquent, young Senator with a great set of teeth, great head of hair with the media at his fingertips. When cameras stopped rolling, the world wanted to know, could he govern? World superpowers wanted to know. Nikita Khrushchev wanted to know. Kennedy and his threatened manhood decided to flex his foreign policy muscle by playing Russian roulette with the Soviets.
Enter the place. Cuba. A tropical paradise weary from years of armed conflict, political oppression, civil unrest and tyranny at the behest of Soviet-supported dictator, Fidel Castro and his henchman, Che Guevara.
Not comfortable with Soviet presence so near to US mainland, Kennedy consented to a plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. In an organized attempt to overthrow Castro’s Communist regime, Kennedy sought to install a new government with which the United States [could] live in peace.
Spearheaded by the CIA and with the aid of the Mafia, Cuban counter-revolutionary forces launched from Guatemala and invaded Playa Girón at the Bay of Pigs. After three days of fighting, the US-trained paramilitary forces of Brigade 2506 relented and surrendered. Approximately 1,200 Brigade 2506 members were captured and ransomed for $53 million in food and medical aid.
After the abysmal failure and shameful retreat that was the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy unrelentingly made a second coup attempt with Operation Mongoose.
Operation Mongoose, a destabilization project whose aim was to stimulate rebellion through the subversive tactics of sabotage, the arming of opposition groups and economic disruption, only escalated the US-Soviet conflict to the point of brinkmanship. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev responded in kind by staging nuclear weapon sites on Cuban soil positioned northward to deter future US-led invasions.
In October 1962 Khrushchev deployed the first shipment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Cuba. Kennedy issued a directive, a naval blockade which sought to prevent any missiles from arriving in Cuba. Kennedy further demanded Khrushchev dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed, and return all offensive weapons to the USSR.
A thirteen-day standoff ensued – the Cuban Missile Crisis. For thirteen days the US and Soviets waited with baited breath to see who would flinch first. Schoolchildren cowered under their desks in fear from the threat of mutual assured destruction. A stalemate followed. At long last Kennedy and Khrushchev reached an agreement: the US would dismantle nuclear weapons aimed at the Soviet Union in Turkey and promised not to invade Cuba. In exchange, the Soviets agreed to remove all weapons from the region.
Fast-forward 50 years to President Obama’s New Beginning and Arab Spring. In an effort to install new government[s] with which the United States [could] live in peace, the administration sent billions of dollars worth arms and M-16s to Middle Eastern insurgent groups. These CIA-assisted opposition groups were trained and organized to overthrow secular regimes from the far reaches of Libya to Syria. Further escalating regional hostilities to the point of brinkmanship, President Obama ordered a strategic missile strike against the Russian-backed Assad regime in response to Assad’s supposed chemical attack near Damascus. A standoff between the US and Russia resulted. Enter the policy of mutual assured destruction Part Deux. This time it only lasted four days–and for four days the world waited for the strikes to commence.
Having gone against UN Security Council admonition and allied support, risk-averse President Obama finally retreated under cover of his newly found appreciation for the Constitutional balance of power.
Relief finally came with the utterance of a gaffe. Assad would turn over his regime’s chemical weapons and place them under international control, supervised by the Russians of course.
The president’s actions, or lack thereof, exposed the fallibility of the US in face of red lines and executive impotency–a paper tiger in which its commander-in-chief plays with matryoshka nesting dolls while his MENA general drafts contingency plans for Russian roulette.
Will history be kind to Mr. Obama and his foreign policy failures or will revisionist mythology eclipse his glaring ineptitude? Or will Obama become more influential after his presidency like Jimmy Carter, ‘becoming more influential in effecting change during his post-presidency than while signing legislation in the Oval Office?’ God help us.
(For further study, order Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.)