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Making Foreign Policy
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Making Foreign Policy

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As he is trying to develop a U.S. position facing off against Russia in the Ukraine, Obama appears to be falling into the same quandary that has now become the pattern for his Administration’s difficulty in developing clear foreign policy parameters. It has also raised questions in the eyes of many observers as to what exactly the U.S. means when the Administration actually states its intentions. 

The world watched as Obama redrew the red-line in the sand that he had pledged concerning Syrian aggression.  They also have observed that any red-lines which he suggested concerning containing Iran’s nuclear program, have been ridiculed by Iranian duplicity and by tolerating procrastination. Sending mixed messages and failing to stand up to its pledges has become part of the hallmark of the Obama Administration’s failings. Without even addressing the substance of the Iranian threat itself, both Iran and the international community–even now– must be unsure as to what a U.S. position on Iran truly means.

Similarly, observers of the U.S. role in the negotiations in Munich over how to respond to the Russian aggression in the Ukraine sense a deep uncertainty as to what actually will be the U.S. position. Here, too, the choices are complicated, certainly with the idea to supply defensive weapons to the Ukrainians which would be used against Russia and Russian backed separatists. Once again the lack of a consistent and predictable U.S. foreign policy track record is also disturbing—at best.

Now, adding additional questions for U.S. foreign policy making come along. Rather than continuing to rely on the Bush Administration’s vote on the use of force, the Obama Administration is requesting a Congressional “use of force” authorization of its own to use the U.S. military against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  While this is certainly reasonable, it raises two problems both of which relate to decision-making but one is substantive and one political.

The Congress asked the White House to draw up the resolution and not to ask it to do so but the Administration demurred.  As has been the case throughout his tenure, Obama does not want to lead but to follow.  While in this instance he has the excuse of Congress being in the control of the Republicans and he does not want to get slammed; yet, in foreign policy issues as well as on major domestic issues, historically, Presidents led.

This resolution has a serious foreign policy issue attached to it as well, which all observers understand. Even if President Obama receives the “authorization for the use of force” resolution, he has indicated as have others in his Administration, even if he were to exercise Congress’ authorization, it would be in a very limited manner. The international community recognizes by now that Obama, understandably, continues to be very reluctant to extend U.S. commitments; but they also have watched an Administration that has a very difficult time making decisions. Even in this case it appears the President wants to hedge his bets; a dubious posture for a leader. 

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