Herbert London: The Faltering American Foreign Policy

Feb 12, 2014

At President Obama’s State of The Union Address scant attention was given to foreign policy. He did note that “the war in Afghanistan is coming to end;” but in reality the war continues. It just so happens the U.S. will be absent from it. Yet the truncated reporting on foreign policy is suggestive. Could it be there is little to report or is it more telling to suggest that there is little good news to report?

Wherever one turns on the global stage, conflict is occurring or is likely to emerge.

The North Koreans are about to engage in their fourth nuclear test. Although unannounced, Iranian scientists will be in attendance in order to learn how to miniaturize a nuclear device for transport on a missile.

International organizations claim that President Assad has destroyed only six percent of his poison gas arsenal in violation of his promise and assurances from Russia. Syria is entering its fourth year of conflict with about 120,000 people killed.

The war in Syria has spilled over into Lebanon and Jordan with Hezballah continuing to play an insidious role as a surrogate for Iranian ambitions in the region.

President Erdogan of Turkey, President Obama’s “closest ally,” is in a fragile political position as a result of a failing economy and a political scandal. His rhetoric has become anti-American and pro-Saudi.

Iraq is “revisiting” a civil war. President Maliki’s unwillingness to recognize Sunni interests in this Shia nation has increased hostilities with Fallujah falling into the hands of the rebels.

Chinese leadership is increasingly assertive with the air defense perimeter (including the Senkaku Islands) being carved out unilaterally and with an active blue water navy operating in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan.

With Khadafy’s defeat and murder, Libya has been thrust into chaos with al Qaeda and its local affiliates gaining control. Despite a New York Times cover-up to suggest “core” al Qaeda was not involved in the destruction of the U.S. Embassy and the murder of the ambassador, it is noticeable that the black flag of al Qaeda flies over Benghazi and Tripoli.

The Ukrainian president is confronting a Russian President Putin using a “carrot and stick” to reclaim the “near abroad,” nations once part of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians are adamantly opposed to the Russian involvement as daily street demonstrations indicate.

American eagerness to depart from Afghanistan, what President Obama once called “the essential war,” has increased the influence of the Taliban and strengthened the hand of local al Qaeda organizations.

The claim that al Qaeda is “on the run” or largely defeated – an assertion made by President Obama – flies in the face of current events across North Africa. In fact, al Qaeda operates in the Sinai, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Qatar, Mali, and any area a local foothold can be established.

With the likehood Iran will possess enough fissile material to build several nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia has contracted with Pakistan for its own nuclear arsenal, thereby initiating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the region.

The U.S. rapprochement with Iran, which freezes the enrichment of uranium in two facilities in return for the relaxation of sanctions, has given the Iranian government the time to increase centrifuge activity in other locations. For Sunni nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey this translates into a “hostile Shia bomb.”

As one goes down this list a question emerges: Where is the United States? Admittedly the U.S. cannot be the world’s policeman, but where is the vision, the overarching goals for these trouble spots eager for guidance? Leading from behind is not an answer, for ultimately chaos is not confined to one nation or one region. As the administration puts its head in the sand or concentrates on pettifogging matters like settlements in the West Bank, the globe is aflame and the flame is spreading. Who knows when it may strike the United States.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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