An increasing number of purported foreign policy and security experts seem to be latching on to this idea that the idea that the Obama administration is responsible for every perceived foreign policy disaster in the world. While my words might be a bit exaggerated, they nevertheless highlight a gross misinterpretation of the preceding circumstances that precipitated many of the events we see today.
For instance, the Arab Spring did offer an opportunity for change. But the United States could only do but so much in a part of the world where strategic interests often conflict with the moral imperatives of advocating democracy. Ultimately, there is nothing the United States could have done to change the trajectory of what transpired. Change in the Middle East will come from within and not from without. Judging by how volatile the situation in the region is becoming, the United States and the Obama administration in particular, does not want to put American lives in harm’s way. It is simply best to let the Middle East work out its idiosyncrasies on its own rather than having an outside power effect the development of a new Middle East.
Sure, it should continue to maintain the roles of protecting Israel and preventing nuclear proliferation. But when it comes to trying to change political systems and fomenting grassroots revolutions, the United States has no reason to act. Iraq was an illustration of just how difficult and costly it is to change political and cultural thinking in the region. The Obama administration does not want to bog itself down with the weighty and rather impossible task of changing the way people in the region think. It realizes it is better served letting those in the region make changes at their own pace in their own time. Culture wars are always painful endeavors. Why repeat past mistakes when we have seen just what they cost?
Contrary to what many critics believe, the Obama administration does possess strategic focus and is doing a great job at keeping the United States out of the kinds of open-ended military obligations that have diminished its credibility and cost taxpayers unspeakable amounts of money.
Now there are those who will undoubtedly cry foul and say the Obama administration has in fact gotten the United States into open-ended commitments in Afghanistan and Libya. With regards to Afghanistan, President Obama did sanction a surge in Afghanistan, based on the advice of military advisors. One could, in theory argue the surge of additional troops into Afghanistan led to a greater number of casualties than would have been sustained had he not ordered the deployment of additional troops.
The surge does represent an escalation of conflict but it does not necessarily imply the embrace of an open-ended military commitment. Admittedly though, the status of troops in Afghanistan past 2014 does remain a question mark mainly because analysts have yet to determine what a new Afghan leadership will inevitably choose. Yet in light of domestic opinion regarding American foreign policy, one would not be wrong in predicting the departure American troops by year’s end. The Obama administration will more than likely follow through on its desire to disengage from Afghanistan as it did with Iraq.
It is still up for debate whether leaving Afghanistan is the right thing to do. Some argue that the Obama Administration has chosen to leave Afghanistan too early. Much like those who criticized the decision to leave Iraq as too early, there are those who seem to think that an early exit from Afghanistan will spell disaster. But to attribute disaster solely to the absence of American troops ignores the causality of other factors that may have nothing to do with a show of force. Cultural and political differences also have a lot to do with the inability of a government to function properly. It is therefore rather premature to assume the Obama administration is somehow acting irresponsibly by leaving Afghanistan to hands of Afghans.
In reference to Libya, I honestly fail to see how this qualifies as an open-ended military commitment. The Obama administration did authorize force but only in a limited way. It did not constitute the use of ground troops but did utilize air and naval assets for a set period of time. Afterwards, our military did nothing else. It’s really as simple as that.
The Obama administration has eschewed the use of force with regards to the situations in Syria and the Ukraine. He is giving the American people the exact kind of foreign policy they want. And while there are those who are making the erroneous assumption that refraining from the use of force makes the United States appear weak, the majority of the American people seem quite content with bringing an end to more and a decade of perpetual warfare.
The United States still possesses the best-trained fighting force the world has ever seen. When that strength is combined with the power of other allies, the ability to withstand and destroy any foe is more than certain. The fact that the Obama administration even has the ability to withhold the use of force is a sign of strength in of itself. Using force in a part of the world where the United States has no strategic interests makes no sense. Yes, there does exist a moral imperative to make a difference in the world. But when the price for acting involves the potential for loss of life, decisions become much more difficult to make.
It would be great if the situation in Syria would resolve itself. But there are several other conflicts occurring on the world in which there is a moral imperative to act, conflict that have taken more lives than those lost in Syria. I hate making comparisons based on the number of innocent people killed. But if you are going to make fuss on acting under the auspices of a moral imperative at least acknowledge the other evils in the world.
Ukraine on the other hand offers nothing for the United States in terms of valuable interests. Furthermore, considering the fact that war has not even started so to speak, why risk exacerbating a conflict that is more than anything a war of words an empty threats. One often forgets the Russians can only push things but so far. While they could well win a war against Ukraine they would undoubtedly suffer casualties and damages that would further weaken its already obsolete military force.
Security and foreign policy experts tend to forget that the once feared hordes of the former Soviet Union never actually existed. They forget that the current Russian military is not even a shadow of its former self. Its warships rot in dilapidated shipyards, it can only field less than 50 fighter aircraft at any given time, its pilots are lack the requisite flight hours to even compete with our pilots, its troops are poorly paid and rather unmotivated, and it still uses tanks that would have been cutting edge circa 1970.
Russia must therefore take the threat of NATO action very seriously. It is very unlikely that Russia will do more than simply deploy more troops to the borderlands. A NATO coalition arranged against the Russians would not be a fair fight. The potential conflict would last less than a few weeks if not a single month. The Russians have a strategic calculus to consider just as every other nation does. If they do the unthinkable and end up in a costly confrontation with NATO forces, their already weakened military forces might never be able to recover. War would be a costly endeavor for the Russians. Even if NATO does not respond, the Ukraine operates is a near-peer force that also has the ability to inflict damage against Russian military forces. Ukrainian military forces might not be able to defeat the Russians. But they can at least give the Russians the kind of Pyrrhic victory they will come to regret much later.
The Obama administration is considering the global order through a strategic lens. Why should the United State exhaust its resources in a multipolar world? Why should the locus of power be centered on the ability to wage war? Is not economic strength the true measure of strength in a world made smaller by globalization? To act tactically will undoubtedly win us victories in the immediate future. But such victories might be meaningless in the long-term. If the United States involve itself in situations where the potential for lengthy commitment is alive and well, it runs the risks of falling behind in a world where economies are the yardsticks of power. Wars cost money. That is a basic truism that cannot be ignored.