It has become a campaign staple to trash President Barack Obama’s foreign policy initiatives from Iraq, Cuba to Russia. American presidential hopefuls have the luxury of hindsight without the responsibility of Syria, Afghanistan, China and many other global concerns resting on their shoulders. But by this time next year, someone else will be making the tough calls from the Oval Office.
It’s ironic that Obama won his first term with a pledge to end the seemingly endless, and deeply unpopular, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did fulfill those promises. However, by the time these policies were in place, the world seemed to have moved on to new crises, including the emergence of Islamic State out of the ashes of Iraq and the violent turmoil in Syria.
All of this—and more—awaits the next President of the United States.
Three New Realities in the Middle East for the Next American President
Stanley Weiss – Huffington Post
[Obama’s supporters] seem convinced that everything that has happened…has had little to do with Obama’s stated policy of “leading from behind” — not the collapse of Libya, Yemen, and Iraq; nor the ruin of Syria; nor the rightward drift of Israel; the implosion of the Palestinian Authority; the Islamization of formerly secular ally Turkey; the horrific spread of the Islamic State; the Iranian takeover of governments in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and the Yemeni capital of Sana’a; or the reassertion of Russian power in the region for the first time in decades. First, Islamist terrorism, starting with ISIS, is the most dangerous threat the West faces today and defeating it must be the centerpiece of our policy going forward…. Second, the United States should accept that the region is shifting back to more natural borders and not try to maintain the artificial lines drawn by the West a century ago…. Third, some of America’s long-time friends are no longer acting like friends, and we should stop treating them as friends.
Fight or Flight
Kenneth M. Pollack – Foreign Affairs
No matter how many times Americans insist that the people of the Middle East will come to their senses and resolve their differences if left to their own devices, they never do. Absent external involvement, the region’s leaders consistently opt for strategies that exacerbate conflict and feed perpetual instability. As a consequence, the next U.S. president is going to face a choice in the Middle East: do much more to stabilize it, or disengage from it much more. But given how tempestuous the region has become, both options—stepping up and stepping back—will cost the United States far more than is typically imagined. Stabilizing the region would almost certainly require more resources, energy, attention, and political capital than most advocates of a forward-leaning U.S. posture recognize. Similarly, giving up more control and abandoning more commitments in the region would require accepting much greater risks than most in this camp acknowledge. The costs of stepping up are more manageable than the risks of stepping back, but either option would be better than muddling through.
Where We Went Wrong, From Afghanistan to ISIS
Mark Moyar – Newsweek
Voluminous foreign complaints about American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq have obscured the fact that those interventions instilled respect and fear of the United States in much of the world….. The respect and fear began to subside in December 2009 with Obama’s announcement of his Afghanistan withdrawal timeline and tumbled sharply in late 2011 with the evacuation of American forces from Iraq. American prestige fell still further with the Syrian “red line” debacle, Russia’s unchecked aggression against Ukraine and the rise of ISIS. The United States thereby suffered a decline in its strategic position on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, the China Development Bank and the Syrian civil war.
The Limits of Obama’s Trip to Cuba
The Editorial Board – BloombergView
President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba on March 21 is not, as its critics contend, a vote of confidence in President Raul Castro’s government. It is simply an opportunity for Obama to acknowledge both the successes of his policy and its limits. More than a year after the normalization of ties began between the U.S. and Cuba, there are tangible signs of progress. Commercial flights and ferry service from the U.S. will soon resume, bringing even more American travelers to Cuba. U.S. cellular companies now provide service on the island, and Internet access has improved…. And serious talks have begun on issues such as investor protections, telecom regulations and environmental protection…. …Soaring rhetoric about free expression is meaningless without support for those who depend on it to criticize the Castro regime, which has increased its persecution of them. Obama can also help his credibility by recognizing that, for most Cubans, daily life is much as it was.