The United States is currently a foreign policy paradox: it is a powerless world power. The country remains the strongest military might ahead of all other nations despite spending cuts and its economy keeps growing. At the same time, its geopolitical policy is completely haphazard.
If it were possible to simply ignore Barack Obama’s foreign legacies after the presidential elections in 2016, his successors would be tempted to consider it.
Violent conflicts are rampant in many corners of the world: in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. International terrorism flourishes. Cyber warfare is a possibility and the power of technology firms such as Google and Alibaba has grown. The rise of China and, to a lesser extent, India, has led to new spheres of influence.
None of these strategic challenges will suddenly cease to exist when President Obama’s term ends. His successor will have to breath new life into the expression “international relations”. President Obama is not an isolationist, but he has become increasingly isolated. Domestically, because he could not get the backing of Congress for important projects. Internationally, because of his glaring lack of intimacy with other government leaders.
At the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama gave a highly acclaimed speech in Cairo. Many saw it as a new beginning with the Muslim world to restore a relationship that had become dysfunctional. In the end however, neither the president nor his secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton, delivered on the noble objectives.
It is already time for the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton, to take responsibility for the United States’ foreign policy legacy, a piecemeal diplomacy which she helped shape as secretary of state.
Back then, intoxicated by his Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. president wasted efforts in major issues, including climate change and the rising importance of Asia. The planned trade agreements with Pacific nations and Europe have drifted far from their original targets and time schedules.
Mr. Obama tried to “reset” relations with Russia but he failed miserably. The transatlantic relationship has suffered heavily due to the incompetent handling of the NSA espionage affair.
It may be true that increasingly complex conflict situations hardly allow for strategic visions and often require immediate, improvized action. All this, however, does not rule out the option of thinking ahead consistently. After all, there are many crisis situations which are interconnected despite their different geographical locations.
Let me give an example: In 2013, President Obama threatened Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad with military intervention should the country use chemical weapons. The Syrian ruler deployed the weapons anyway. What did the United States, weary of wars, do? Nothing. The result: Mr. Obama’s empty threat to Syria was not a hindrance to Russia’s annexation of Crimea nor has it kept North Korea from its nuclear provocations.
What foreign policy successes are there? The detente with Cuba is one. The fight against Islamic State terror in Iraq is another, after Europe once again failed to act. The talks with Iran count as well.
The price that Washington was willing to pay is high: The current administration has alienated Israel, which itself has contributed to the disturbed relations under the leadership of a cheerfully provocative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The talks with Iran have also tempered relations with long-time Arab allies, which fear an Iranian-Shia hegemony in the region.
It would be wrong to point at Washington as the cause of all of today’s conflicts. Many in Germany would like to blame the United States for all problems but Europe should also take a look at itself for its failures in security policies.
To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org