Using President Barack Obama’s decision to back away from the red line he drew over Syria’s use of chemical weapons as a central theme, author Jeffrey Goldberg gave readers tremendous insight into Obama’s decision-making process and how he thinks U.S. muscle should be flexed.
Goldberg reveals details of Obama’s sometimes curt interactions with his national security staff, his disdain for Washington’s think-tank establishment and his admission of failure with regards to Libya.
It’s not a light read; more than 19,000 words (some of which are, shall we say, salty.) And thousands more words have already been written in reaction.
The Disappointment of Barack Obama
David Frum – The Atlantic
Politics is a realm of paradox. The Obama foreign policy is especially rich in them. A president who professes multilateralism has left the country’s alliances in disarray. A president who justly criticized his predecessor for poor postwar planning in Iraq launched his own war in Libya with no postwar plan at all. A president who rejects religious extremism and authoritarianism has built his Middle East policy on visions of cooperation with extremist and authoritarian Iran. A president who sought to teach America the wisdom of humility never learned that lesson himself.
Dogs, Cats and Leadership
David Brooks – The New York Times
The new Goldberg essay is a profound and comprehensive look at President Obama’s foreign policy thinking, and especially his steadfast desire to reduce American involvement in the Middle East.
But it’s also fascinating to read in the midst of a presidential campaign. It shows how insanely far removed campaign bloviation is from the reality of actually governing. It also reveals that the performance of presidents, especially on foreign policy, is shaped by how leaders attach to problems. Some leaders are like dogs: They want to bound right in and make things happen. Some are more like cats: They want to detach and maybe look for a pressure point here or there.
How the Iraq War Warped Obama’s Worldview
Shadi Hamid – The Atlantic
On October 2, 2002, Barack Obama gave a speech opposing war in Iraq—perhaps, in retrospect, the most important speech he ever gave. He was right, of course, and the foreign-policy establishment was largely wrong. The problem is that politicians who were right about Iraq tend to overestimate what that says about their foreign-policy judgment….
It is unclear what being right on Iraq would mean for your likelihood of being right on Syria, since the contexts in question are, in a way, opposites: Civil war in Iraq began after the United States intervened. Civil war in Syria happened in the absence of intervention. History will have to judge, but it may actually be the case that being right on Iraq made you more likely to be wrong about subsequent interventions.
The Obama-Trump Doctrine
Eli Lake – Bloomberg View
From a distance, Donald Trump and Barack Obama have very different outlooks on the world. The president is a hyper-rational “Spockian,” to borrow Jeffrey Goldberg’s phrase from his new Atlantic article on the president’s foreign policy….
Trump is bombastic. He threatens the families of terrorists and only belatedly revoked his promise to bring back waterboarding and “much worse.”
These differences are real. But Goldberg’s deeply reported essay shows that for all their differences, Trump and Obama share similar foreign policy instincts.
Recovering from the Obama Doctrine
Alexander Benard – The National Interest
As a result of the Obama foreign policy, U.S. friends are rattled and U.S. adversaries are emboldened. But if we look for the silver lining, it is this: countries the world over, especially those that sit on the periphery of the major powers, have been given a glimpse into an alternate world in which the United States is no longer willing to provide the security guarantees that for decades have formed the bedrock of the global order. And they have not liked what they saw. The door is thus wide open for the United States to drastically recalibrate its strategic approach and return to a position of global leadership, as it must.
The Middle East Is Unraveling — and Obama offers Words
Hishem Melhem – The Atlantic
Obama told those Arabs struggling non-violently for basic rights such as free speech, gender equality, the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the right to choose their leaders that “our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.” But as I have written, when Obama “looked at the enormity of the challenges posed by the Arab uprisings, particularly when they became more violent, he simply flinched.”
Glass Half Full? Obama’s Judicious Foreign Policy Record
Michael O’Hanlon – Brookings
[A] central element of the discussion was Obama’s rebuke to many critics of his foreign policy. He complained that much of the “establishment” seems to have a foreign policy playbook that requires frequent and excessive use of force whenever a crisis arises that displeases the United States. Instead, Obama called for a much more restrained, selective, and strategic approach in the employment of American military power.
In many ways, I think the president is right. As I have written before, Obama’s original and very lofty goals for his presidency have generally proven elusive.
But, in fact, there is a strategy, even if it is more often implied than explicit, and even if it falls short of the president’s own preferences of what writers and historians might say about his two terms in office.
A Cringe-Worthy Presidency
Max Boot – Commentary
When it comes to stopping Russia, Obama adopts a defeatist mindset. “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” he told Goldberg, and then proceeded to offer one of his trademark straw man arguments: “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it.”
It’s a good thing that Ronald Reagan didn’t have this mindset. Otherwise he would never have provided arms to the mujahideen. Instead, he would have taken the attitude that because Afghanistan is next to the Soviet Union, Moscow is destined to dominate there unless the United States was willing to go to war with the USSR. Of course, Reagan didn’t take that attitude and his active support for the Afghan resistance helped to bring down the Soviet empire.