BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
From Hope-and-Change to Same-Ole-Same-Ole
A first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a relative political novice, who had cast himself as the man who would transform American politics for the better (he was the change we were waiting for, apparently). Obama also vowed that he would undo all of the damage wrought by that crazy cowboy from Texas (who was the scion of an aristocratic northeastern family). Well, the torture (as far we know) did stop. But, the symbol of that torture–the United States Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba–remains open nine years after former President Barack Obama ordered its closure.
More troublingly, even though the capturing and torturing of suspected terrorists stopped, the targeting of suspected terrorists throughout the world with drones intensified to unprecedented levels. Since 2010, the number of drone strikes in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, and throughout the Middle East (if you’ll pardon the expression) simply exploded. Mind you, most of the countries that Obama droned over his two terms in office were not at war with the United States (nor we, publicly, were at war with them). Mr. Obama campaigned as a man who would return us to the norms of international relations (in part, by respecting the sovereignty of other countries) while governing our foreign policy according to American “ideals.”
In what way is violating the national sovereignty of countries we’ve not declared war upon and engaging in the most expansive presidential assassination program since the Phoenix Program of the Vietnam War “in keeping with American ideals” (please note: I am not personally condemning the drone program, I’m merely holding America’s leaders up to their often absurd lofty rhetoric)?
To add some scalding hot fudge on this terrible sundae of hypocrisy, the former Obama Administration–again, according the all-important American “ideals”–gave short shrift to our traditional Sunni Arab allies in the Middle East; abandoned Iraq after we had effectively already stabilized the situation there; thumbed its nose at Israel (while inexplicably embracing our traditional regional foe of revolutionary Iran); kowtowed to Russia; treated China’s rise with a stunning degree of indifference; empowered anti-American dictatorships throughout Latin America and Africa; toppled a friendly autocracy in Libya; likely (unwittingly) funded and supplied ISIS (and other jihadi groups) in the Syrian Civil War, so that we could topple another “tyrant,” Bashar al-Assad (who, to be sure, is an evil man who does have American blood on his hands); and encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood to take over our long-time ally of Egypt (once the Egyptian military said “enough!” to the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi, and replaced him in a coup with the pro-American General Sisi, Mr. Obama put the pro-American Egyptian General Sisi on his shit-list).
Obama campaigned against Mr. Bush’s unilateralism. George W. Bush opposed nation-building. Bill Clinton was averse to George H.W. Bush’s purported “coldness” in foreign policy. The elder Bush, for his part, was a much better tactician than he was a strategist (George H.W. Bush famously quipped that he lacked an understanding of that whole “vision thing”). As you can see, American foreign policy has not only unmoored America from its hard-won dominant position atop the international system, but U.S. foreign policy itself has become unglued by America’s political leaders over the last 30 years.
The only way back to some semblance of reasonable foreign policy is to recognize our massive limitations today; address only the pressing concerns (namely, ending the War on Terror in a way that protects U.S. national interests and standing up to China); and engaging with the world in a respectful and humbler manner–a way that protects the national interest but also reduces conflict (by working with rival parties in areas of overlapping strategic interests, but not putting too much faith in cooperation–and certainly without weakening America’s resolve or military power).
Thus, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 to the presidency is a vital break with the recent past. While Trump certainly did campaign in favor of torture (again, I recognize that there was some good to come of the policy in terms of counterterrorism), he also was the only Republican candidate in 2016 to seriously rage against George W. Bush’s quixotic mission in Iraq even harder than he lambasted Mr. Obama’s weak-kneed foreign policy.