The Obama Administration has a fundamental foreign policy problem. After getting caught twice in the last year having drawn lines in the sand and then not delivering—Syria’s use of gas and Iran’s nuclear program—it has ceased to indicate what its policy is or will be; rather it is now indicating what it will not be. This is what the President and his team have said about how the U.S. will respond to the current blow-up in Iraq. The U.S. will not send troops into Iraq, although the Government asserts it has many options on the table including possible air strikes or the use of drones.
This becomes the latest example an unwillingness on the part of the Obama Administration to actually take assertive action. It has been willing to take diplomatic and humanitarian moves but not specific actions which could affect the actual balance on the ground. The Administration has provided refugee assistance to countries which are caring for the millions of Syrians who have fled from the Assad regime, but no actual assistance has been forthcoming for the forces opposing the Assad. It recognized the recent Palestinian Authority-Hamas reconciliation effort, but has still not put forward an actual peace proposal to reconcile the Israelis and Palestinians; this despite more than nine months of Secretary Kerry’s negotiations.
In the Indian sub-continent the situation is similar. The President has announced his planned withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan but serious negotiations with the Taliban have been more form than substance. At the same time new elections in Pakistan present a challenge for future stability for all sides.
The facts are that the past 14 years have not demonstrated U.S. foreign policy at its best. The loss of American lives and treasure no doubt have seriously contributed to the growing isolationist direction championed by the Tea Partyers as well as a desire on the part of the current Administration to avoid further engagements. The harsh reality, however, is that most of the belligerent states and non-state actors in the throughout the region—with only a few exceptions– do not want America to be engaged. The political and religious conflicts which are largely a function intra-Islamic fights cannot and will not be resolved by imposed Western ideologies and power.
The Obama team, like its European allies, is becoming largely a bystander to the affairs of the region. To its genuine friends like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the North African states, America has shown only a limited willingness to take the heat and the rhetoric that would pour out from the rest of the more radical Muslim world. Choices are few but inaction and timidity ought not to be options while the entire Levant is disestablishing itself.