Obama’s Cold-Blooded Foreign Policy

Russia’s invasion of Crimea (let’s not mince words here) has brought President Obama’s foreign policy under heavy criticism from Republicans in recent days.* Some of it has been ludicrous. Lindsey Graham suggested on Twitter that somehow Russia’s invasion of Crimea really started with Benghazi, which…I can’t even. But even the criticisms which exist in the reality you and I inhabit miss the mark; they fundamentally mistake the core aims of Obama’s foreign policy, and as a result their assessments of its character are deeply flawed.**

Luckily, President Obama recently gave a lengthy interview to Bloomberg View’s Jeff Goldberg which should help to clarify.*** First, and as an aside, I think the President gives impressive, highly-reasoned answers throughout. But for our purposes that is neither here nor there. What this interview and past performance make clear is that American foreign policy under President Obama has been conducted with the almost singular aim of ensuring America’s security at the lowest possible cost.**** He’s withdrawn us from Iraq, almost withdrawn us from Afghanistan, infringed on Pakistani sovereignty to capture and kill Osama bin Laden, overseen a huge increase in targeted killings, authorized raids against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, kept us out of Syria, and pursued negotiations with Iran.

I think the common thread uniting these policy stances is the belief that they cost America little, and keep America safe. To raise a ruckus over Obama’s failure to reassure our allies in Europe by keeping the Bush-era missile shield plans intact, or to cry foul over our muddled response to Egypt’s changes in government (to put it anodynely) is to talk past the Administration entirely. If you judge President Obama’s foreign policy on the metric of American safety, and that metric alone, he’s been remarkably successful (certainly compared to his predecessors). And, contrary to critics like Ted Cruz, I think you can detect a foreign policy that’s been astonishingly cold blooded in its execution. Does it get any more realpolitik than this?

I’m always darkly amused by this notion that somehow Iran has won in Syria. I mean, you hear sometimes people saying, “They’re winning in Syria.” And you say, “This was their one friend in the Arab world, a member of the Arab League, and it is now in rubble.” It’s bleeding them because they’re having to send in billions of dollars. Their key proxy, Hezbollah, which had a very comfortable and powerful perch in Lebanon, now finds itself attacked by Sunni extremists. This isn’t good for Iran. They’re losing as much as anybody. The Russians find their one friend in the region in rubble and delegitimized.

You could quite legitimately question the morality of a policy that is designed to bleed the living daylights out of all parties involved because none of them make palatable allies, but that is unquestionably what ours in Syria is designed to do. President Obama is undoubtedly many things, but on foreign policy anyway I’m not sure weak is one of them.

*Say what you want about American Exceptionalism, but it’s worth noting that in almost no other country in the world would this be the case. In the abstract, the equation is absurd: Country A and Country B have a dispute with deep historical roots, and the leader of Country C (which is located on a different continent) is somehow responsible
**As it happens, I am not altogether on board with what I perceive some of those core aims to be; I would not prima facie object to a more interventionist stance in Syria on humanitarian grounds, for example
*** You know, because we’re running this blog as a public service and all, and not as an experiment in mental self-wankdom
****Before you start throwing Libya in my face, yes, it does seem like an exception and also, you’ll notice I haven’t said much about execution yet