Six years into Obama’s presidency, his general leaning in foreign policy has become abundantly clear. It’s one of reaction and passivism.
When crises come, Mr. Obama usually ponders, waits, gives nice speeches that entail warnings against offending foreign entities, he follows up with no concrete actions, he then waits more, and as situation escalates, he reluctantly commits to some kind of limited actions (or no actions) that do not provide a solution to the problems. This pattern can be seen in his dealing with crises in Syria, in Ukraine, and most recently in Iraq, as Islamic militants (ISIS) slaughter Christians and other ethno-religious minorities in areas that ISIS controls.
When it comes to the Obama foreign policy, it can be said that Mr. Obama is a man of many words, but not too many concrete actions.
Don’t get me wrong, despite my criticism of Mr. Obama’s policies, I think he is an intelligent man. He is thoughtful, articulate and calculating. He would not have won two battles for U.S. presidency if it were not for these traits that he possesses. Meanwhile, these positive traits could become negative assets if he does not engage others and continues to be aloof and indecisive in decision making.
Some observers (including both democrats and republicans, and even his half brother) have pointed out that Mr. Obama is an introvert and aloof, who ostensibly does not always engage others effectively to solve problems at hand. Let us not forget, Mr. Obama also lacked executive experience, and had always been a law-maker (at state and federal level) prior to assuming the position as U.S. President. He had not been equipped and trained to handle crises that are often involved in an executive-branch position.
As crises, both domestic and foreign, piled up on after another, Mr. Obama acted in a manner that suggests that he is totally inept in dealing with these situations. His thoughtful and calculating traits do not serve him well in these situations. Why is Obama so reluctant and reactive in foreign affairs? It is partly because he is too calculating. Unfortunately, when someone is too calculating, he becomes short-sighted and can fail to see the big picture.
During his press conference regarding air strikes against ISIS, Mr. Obama emphasized yet again that these air strikes are only of limited scope, and under no conditions will the U.S. send ground troops again to Iraq. This kind of rhetoric only emboldens our enemies, knowing the United States does not want to get involved in foreign problems.
Why would Obama do something like this? We cannot lose sight of the fact that mid-term elections at home is only less than three months away in November, which will decide whether the Senate will revert to Republican control. Mr. Obama wants to assure the war-weary American public that he is not sending U.S. troops to Iraq again, to strengthen the possibility of a democratic-controlled Senate after the mid-term elections. If both the House of Representatives and Senate turn Republican, Obama becomes lame-ducked and will not be able to effectively implement his policy goals during the last two years of his presidential term. He won’t like that.
His calculating nature which in part resulted in his reactive and passive foreign policy, comes with severe consequences. The first consequence is of humanitarian nature. It took Obama two months to decide to drop bombs on ISIS, as the militant terrorist group threatened the Kurdish-controlled region and U.S. military advisors in Iraq. During these two months as ISIS militants seized control of much of Iraq, Obama did nothing; and when he does decide on air strikes, it has already become too little and too late. Thousands of Iraqis were killed, women raped, people beheaded and crucified, including young children, who were also cut into halves, as news reports noted. Had Mr. Obama struck the nascent ISIS early on, we probably would not be here today dealing with issues of genocide and massacre of Iraqi civilians.
The second consequence of his reactive foreign policy is of national security nature. It is naïve for the Obama administration and some members of congress to think that an Iraq under ISIS threat is none of our business. This militant group is more extreme than al-Qaeda, and has issued threats against the United States. ISIS has no problem cruelly slaughtering civilians in Iraq, and given the opportunity as it grows larger and more influential, it will definitely strike the United States. The Obama administration’s inaction and failure in proactively dealing with ISIS’ threat right now, will translate into a growing ISIS threat against the United States in the future. The reality is, the emphatic and self-defeating promise of “no ground troops on the ground” is meaningless. When ISIS becomes a real and imminent security threat to the United States (due to our inaction to stop them right now), we would have no choice but to send ground troops to Iraq to deter this threat, which would most definitely result in more causalities to the U.S. military.
It is true that the future of a stable Iraq is not something that the United States can obtain by its military power alone, but one that requires an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that does not alienate different ethno-religious groups. We do not argue with Mr. Obama on that point. However, Obama administration’s passivism in dealing with the growing ISIS threat does not facilitate the realization of that “stable Iraq,” nor does this foreign policy of inaction and passivism help to strengthen U.S. national security in the future.
If Mr. Obama cares so much about his last two years in office and the potential effect of U.S. military actions against ISIS in Iraq on the mid-term election, he should care more about the long-term interest of U.S. national security and also his legacy in history as a U.S. President. His 2008 campaign slogan of “hope” and “change’ has become vacuous after six years in office; and as of 2014, he is very unpopular with the American public in recent polls. His administration is plagued by domestic scandals one after another, and his foreign policy has been largely ineffective and even invites aggression from foreign entities. If Mr. Obama does not change course, he will surely go down in history as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Then, he will probably be remembered in history more for who he was—the first Black President—than what he had accomplished.