Friday, February 26, 2016

Obama's Do-Nothing Foreign Policy

One does not quite see what Roger Cohen was getting at in his column yesterday.  After all, as I have posted, Cohen recently offered one of the most brutal critiques of the Obama Syria policy… an unmitigated and world-changing failure. And he has been anything but positive about Obama’s approach to Islamic terrorism.

On those we all agree.

Yesterday, however, Cohen wrote a strange column in which he pretended to be writing a speech wherein Obama would defend his foreign policy. Cohen, or Obama-Cohen called it a policy of restraint. We do better to call it Do-nothingism. It's principle is simple: if you do nothing, they presumably you cannot be held accountable for doing something.

We have in this blog examined many different explanations for Obama’s foreign policy failures. Among them: incompetence, sympathy for America’s enemies, believing that America is the problem, not the solution.

Put them together and you have a good picture of what went wrong with Obama’s foreign policy.

In writing a speech for Obama, Cohen is suggesting that there is method in the madness. I suspect that there never was a real rationale, but that, in looking back, you can find a rationale for just about anything. The truth is, if you cannot articulate a policy before you act then you do not have a policy.

Cohen opens with Obama contemplating the sting of public criticism. People accuse him of refusing to defend America’s interests. People believe that he does not accept America’s leadership role in the world. Since there is no evidence to suggest otherwise,  the criticism does have some bite.

Obama-Cohen begins on the defensive:

To say this is to be accused of defeatism, of managing American decline and of giving up on American exceptionalism. That is why I have pursued an implicit foreign policy rather than an explicit one. That is why I waited so long to give this speech on my doctrine of restraint. No president wants to make a speech called “The Consequences of the End of the American Century.” It’s political suicide.

So, Obama did not really have a policy. You need to know something to formulate and implement a policy. Obama did not know much of anything about world history or foreign policy, so he had to make it up as he went along. By default, he allowed himself to be led around by his ideology and his emotions.

Obama-Cohen does not seem to understand that, if the American century is over, he himself has been its undertaker. Just like Obama himself, Obama-Cohen never takes responsibility for anything.

Having weakened America, having shown himself to be weak, Obama-Cohen suggests that American power is no longer as consequential as it once was. Had he suggested that he was responsible for this decline, we would have been more likely to agree:

The consequence is that American power still counts but no longer clinches the deal. Multilateral solutions to international problems must be pursued. The Iran nuclear agreement — reached with help from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — is one example. Another is the Paris Climate Agreement. Military power can only be used as a last resort, for clear and achievable political ends, and when there is a workable plan for post-military development. That was not the case in Iraq. Look at the price.

If the best Obama-Cohen can do is to tout his disastrous deal with Iran and an empty climate change agreement, he has accomplished precisely nothing. The mass migration of peoples from the Middle East and Africa risks changing Western civilization for the worse… for decades, if not centuries to come.

Being an amateur Obama-Cohen tries to rationalize his weakness and failures by setting up an alternative that is worse. It would be like someone who is gun-shy defending his cowardice by saying that being trigger-happy would be worse.

Obama-Cohen continues:

I know that many people think my policies have failed in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, and that President Putin has filled the vacuum. My priority was to avoid overreach in the use of American power, adjust our ambitions to the realities of the world and devote resources to neglected domestic priorities including infrastructure, inequality and health care.

He continues to set up a false choice:

I’ll take that moniker, if the alternative is to embrace feel-good posturing and drift into another intractable war in which young Americans die for murky causes in the indifferent sands of the Middle East.

Here, Obama-Cohen shows what is wrong. He believes that there are only two alternatives: all-out war or nothing. Simple-mindedly he sees the world in all or nothing terms. As long as he is not doing what he is afraid to do—go to war—he thinks that he is doing the right thing. He has failed to understand the diplomacy always seeks a middle ground between two extremes. And he has failed to see that there are many ways to exercise leadership. He was a tennis player trying to play in a chess tournament against grandmasters.

Then Obama-Cohen starts listing some of his failures.

Should I have backed the pro-democracy uprising of young Iranians in 2009 against the regime, and might American support have tipped the balance? Should I have done more to ensure the fragile Egyptian experiment in democracy did not fail by pressing former President Mohamed Morsi to restrain his divisive Muslim Brotherhood agenda? Should I have called the coup that ousted him a “coup”?

These are situations where Obama was frozen like a deer in the headlights. He looked at the situation and did nothing. Nothing is not a policy. It is not a policy of restraint. It is cowardice.

But, of course, his team agonized over the issues. They might be a band of incompetents, but at least they have the right feelings. Don’t you feel better already?

I know members of my foreign policy team have agonized over Syria and its quarter-million dead. One or two may have been close to resigning. The refugee flow into Europe destabilizes allies. But I do not lose sleep. This job is about tough choices. Restraint was the wiser option for a chastened America unready to pass the mantle but condemned now to share it.

As I said, other options were available. Obama was restrained because he did not know what he was doing. His restraint was an orderly retreat. If Obama-Cohen did not understand it, the rest of the world did.


priss rules said...

This Cohen is evil. He is for non-stop massive invasion of Europe by Muslims and Africans.

He may be right about Obama, but he is wrong about much else.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

If ignorance of the law is not a defense, ignorance of the human condition is also not a defense. I suspect Obama doesn't like human beings very much, and sees us as a disease, a problem, an obstacle to his grand plans. There's only one problem: he's a people.

Let's remember: Obama ran two campaigns to gain the office he holds. He pursued it with vigor and soaring oratory. He wanted the job. Now he has it. And his foreign policy is a disaster. And now Obama (and his muse in Obama-Cohen) says it's circumstances, it's other people's mess, it's other people's fault. He is not a responsible executive. He wanted to be in the big game, playing the most powerful figure in the world. And still he believes the problems are "out there."

That's one way to assess it.

Another consideration is that Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett are doing this all by design, and achieving their objectives. Look at the track record, at every turn. It all seems insane, depending on which eyeglass prescription you're wearing. The correction is to look at it as though they are doing all this on purpose. When you observe it, Obama's foreign policy doesn't look like one that's frustrated, where there are fits and starts and abrupt exits, and repeats. Instead, what we see is inaction, threats and excuses. That seems like stasis and withdrawal to me, and these are his final answers. Ignore his words, pay attention to his choices. We haven't backed up the "red line" threats... we've had paltry military exhibitions without consequence. We could do much more to honor our word as a nation. We haven't. And there's a reason for that.

It's all by design. That's the only way I can reconcile any of this. Obama's not worried or frustrated. He's aloof, detached. Perhaps he's cool because everything is going according to plan. Kind of like Dr. Evil.

So impose the question back: what is Obama's endgame? What's he playing for? Cohen doesn't answer that, he just adds more words. More words without answers mean more confusion. What do Obama's choices tell you?

Unknown said...


Ares Olympus said...

Hurray for Do-nothingism! If only it true my cheer would be sincere.

IAC, those words of Cohen's are apparently not his, but an imaginary speech for Obama by Stephen Heintz.

But whatever opinions you have on Obama's foreign policy legacy, we probably should be grateful he's not starting any big wars in his last year in office, even Bush was smart enough not to do that. So we should be more concerned about the next president.

And if you believe the math-guys (I don't, but I am one), if Trump wins the Republican primary in a hostile takeover, he also appears to have a high chance of winning the presidency.

So soon we're going to have a president who takes Neonazi tweets as facts. It doesn't make me hopeful for the future.

I'd stick with Cool-handed Luke, if we had another one to replace Obama. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

I really have to believe there is something in the air, some smell of shame and humiliation that everyone is trying to avoid, and some minority in every side is chomping at the bit to lead the charge to make sure its someone else's problem.

You really have to believe the U.S. is asking to be beaten again, maybe not boxcutters, but something equally humiliating, that'll be worth a 10 trillion dollar war in a vain attempt to avoid the Great Recession Part II on our door step.

Perhaps it'll be cyber warfare this time? Suddenly all our communication satellites stop working, our GPS lost, and we won't know what hit us. But if conventional warfare is over, what will this attack look like?

It's hard to imagine. I'm sure the Military is imagining for us, and will advise President Trump, after the attack, which country to invade next.

Anonymous said...

AO: Read Peggy Noonan in toda's Journal. Your time is over. You and your friends are finished. Your haute taute brand of smarty pants politics is finished. Your neonazi insults aren't going to work anymore. Trump is winning because he isn't playing by your rules.hes speaking a truth you couldn't possibly understand. The rest of us out here have lived in your world, and it's gotten us nowhere. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, just with a different Harvard or Yale pedigree. Trump builds stuff, he doesn't just say stuff like the dc people. Your world is done. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be.

Dennis said...

Before tossing out the "Nazi" card one might want to be sure who is playing the brown shirt first. Much like the "race" and "sex" card it has little value and causes others to discredit your point of view if you actually have a well reasoned one.
You can of course believe and vote for whomever you desire, but other people have the same right to see things differently. I, myself started out thinking Trump had some very valid points that needed to be addressed and his background might have a better chance of approaching a solution or at least getting people to think about them.
Over the intervening period I have begun to think that Trump is presenting a "Power Point " presentation that has a few main points and a number of bullet points built on anger and frustration with and underlying Saul Alinski approach to anyone who dares challenge him. All titles, bullet points, et al, but no meat on the bones.
The question is who and how are we going to accomplish the bullet points. Just like any "Power Point" presentation there has to be a presentation by the presenter who answers the questions of how this is going to be accomplished. A true leader never burns all of his bridges and create so much alienation if he/she wants to get things done. Politics and the art of making governments work is much more complicated that running a business where one person controls every thing and can actually fire people. You know that three branches of divided government thing.
One of these day people are going to have to understand that we need each other if we are going to make the changes necessary to create and maintain the culture and society we wish for. Calling each other names is NOT going to make it happy unless one plans on acting like ...........

Anonymous said...

Dennis: Read AO's own comments. He's the one who said Trump was propagating "Neonazi tweets as facts." I understand if you don't read AO's stuff, but don't come rushing to his defense! As for hope & change, Trump is the only guy who will really change anything, because MarcoCruzKasich won't do a darn thing. I'll take a PowerPoint over establishment BS any day. At least he's built something.

Ares Olympus said...


Even Bill O’Reilly tried to gently shame Trump into checking his facts, but Trump played dumb.
O’Reilly: When you tweet out a thing, and this bothered me, I gotta tell you. You tweeted out that whites killed by blacks, these were statistics you picked up from somewhere, at a rate of 81 percent. And that’s totally wrong. Whites killed by blacks is 15 percent, yet you tweeted it was 81 percent.

Trump: Bill, I didn’t tweet, I retweeted somebody that was supposedly an expert, and it was also a radio show.

O’Reilly: Why do you want to be in that zone?

Trump: Hey, Bill, Bill, am I gonna check every statistic? I get millions and millions of people, @RealDonaldTrump, by the way.

O’Reilly: You gotta, you’re a presidential contender, you gotta check ‘em.

If someone wants to start a race war, repeating lies like this is a good way.

And if Trump supporters like you want to believe 81% of white murders are done by blacks, I understand you probably are not interested in facts.

And if a majority of Americans want to vote for Trump, that's their business. I however must express my concern and strong disapproval.

Anonymous said...

AO: Okay, and Hillary lied about Benghazi, SOS emails, the vast right wing conspiracy, and that's for starters. So who are you gonna vote for, because that's gonna be your choice.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 26, 2016 at 9:23 PM:

My apologies, you are correct: Roger Cohen gave his ENTIRE column space to a cut-and-paste a piece by Stephen Heintz from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Consider it Cohen's penance for violating liberal orthodoxy.

Ahh, yes... Mr. Heinz. I can think of no better embodiment of our effete elites than he: someone who works at a fund set up by third-generation heirs of a monopoly petroleum interest saying in November 2015 "The age of oil is coming to an end." Yeah, that was when oil was expensive at $45 a barrel. So perhaps Mr. Cohen got a bit too much grief at cocktail parties after his last critique of the Obama foreign policy, so now he's turning it over to someone else. Wow, what courage. That is know-nothingism. That is not just a retreat from the world, that is a retreat from reality. And such sage advice: "Hey America, get over it, you're done!"

Oil is plentiful, inexpensive, flexible and efficient source of energy. As is coal. The reason the greenies like Heidt don't like it is it contributes to their highest fantasy: anthropomorphic global warming, aka "Climate Change." Follow the money: subsidies, research, political blockading, activism, non-profit concerns, government rent-seeking and energy company profits. It's all there. Journalists might actually write about it if they weren't in-the-bag for it, too!

Peggy Noonan wrote an excellent column in today's WSJ, about the "protected" class. What do you think is the "protected's" most profitable con, based on their greatest pseudo-scientific article of faith? Who can least afford the consequences of this faith-based energy policy? That's right, the "unprotected."

So Noonan is slowly coming around to what I have said all along: Trump's success is instructive. It tells us something, if we're willing to listen. But most of our elites do not listen. They proclaim dogmas about all sorts of things, and these dogmas are articles of faith. Meanwhile, we are bankrupting ourselves. Our national debt is a disgrace... we are stealing from our children and grandchildren, althewhile wailing about how "mean" and "racist" the "little people" are. The elite is so isolated that they no longer understand who they're talking about. White working class America has had enough of government spending, regulation, bullshit theories masquerading as "proven" science, lying Republicans, lying Democrats, phony altruistic causes, race extortionists, not winning wars, apologizing to the world, deceitful promises about the benefits of "free trade," etc. In short, they're sick of being talked down to... if you're willing to listen. If you don't, you get Trump. If you do, you get Trump. So enjoy, because they know Hillary lies to stay in power, too. And Al Sharpton announced he'll leave the country if Trump is elected. For practical purposes, you can file that as a huge Trump endorsement!

The silent majority is asserting itself again, and this time, it's pissed. Before, they were upset about social issues... and still are. This time, they're pissed about economics. Elites do not listen to them. So long as we have voting, they're gonna have to.

As for your foreign policy hallucinations of avoiding the world, perhaps you might consider that the world has a funny way of finding you when you disengage from it. Whether by design or by accident.

Ares Olympus said...


Ummmm... Benghazi was a simple tragedy outside of partisan nonsense, SOS email security was mistakes of no consequence outside of partisan nonsense. I'll certainly vote for Hillary if she's the democratic nominee, not that I believe Obama's new status quo can continue too many more years.

And Stuart should be happy with Hillary since she promises to be Israel's BFF.

There may yet be conspiracies abound, lizardmen and all, but they're all above my hacking skills to fact-check.

Myself, being debt free and keeping my modest retirement funds out harms way is enough for my sanity right now. I have nothing but gratitude for what life has given me, and I and let it all go when fate demands and say I've had a good life.

I rather expect President Trump and President Clinton are largely interchangeable, except I'll be more embarressed for America on the first.

Trump isn't a conservative, and Hillary isn't a liberal. They're both just big players of the big game.

Anonymous said...

AO: You introduced race into this. Typical liberal, loose with language. You wanna talk facts? Yes, let's. You've offered Trump's tweet as proof he's a Neonazi. Your label. Do you acknowledge the fact that in 2012 85% of non-homicide violence between blacks and whites was initiated by blacks? My point is not that blacks are bad. My point is that our politicians do not talk honestly about what is going on, and a great many of us are sick of it. Instead of labeling any facts about blacks as racist, why don't we have that national conversation about race Obama says he wants us to have instead of pretending that not talking about it keeps us safe. Or that only Black Lives Matter. Saying something as crazy as all lives matter is enough to get you publicly shamed and fired from your job. Heather MacDonald at the Manhattan Institute has done a lot of work on this, and her stats are ignored. Read it yourself. Calling someone a racist is a very serious charge. But it's not used to make black lives better, it's used to shut people up. Who wins? The race extortionists. There are a lot of people out here who have had enough of it.

Anonymous said...

AO: Simple tragedy? Benghazi was a disaster. Lots of people died. It was a terrorist attack on an American diplomatic facility, and no one took the call or was responsible. They blamed it on an Internet video. You say Hillary's server was a mistake? She set it up to have secret back and forth with people that wouldn't be subject to government transparency laws. Petraeus was humiliated and charged for a similar mistake. Why do the rules not apply to people you vote for? I guess your mind is made up, so there's no point in continuing this. You've got yours, so screw everyone else. Wow, you're a real patriot.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Oil is plentiful, inexpensive, flexible and efficient source of energy.

If I agree on all 4, you'll probably think I agree with you.

But given many oil producers are selling their oil at a loss (or a loss relative to their debt payments and/or the subsidies of oil exporting nation), the reality is oil production is about to CRASH, and the 1980 oil company bankruptcies are only beginning. All we've discovered is we know how to pump $100/bbl oil and sell at $40.

Not even Saudi Arabia can afford to sell oil below $50/bbl, so we're in the middle of a huge game of chicken to see which country erupts into civil war first, and drops supply fast enough to spike prices back up to $100/bbl.

There's NOTHING good in the oil market at all right now. We just don't know what order things are going to fail.

And I'm SURE I don't want to spend another $4-8 trillion in the Middle east over a new oil war.

If America got our oil consumption down below our 1971 peak production of 11 million barrels/day, I'd feel much happier.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @February 27, 2016 at 9:23 AM:

So you don't like oil, and everything is going to crash. Great reasoning.

Ares Olympus said...

Anon: You've offered Trump's tweet as proof he's a Neonazi.

No, I use Trump's tweet to prove he's a Chump. If he can be manipulated by nonsense Neonazi tweets, he can be be manipulated by much more important people who will USE him to their ends.

Character matters, and people in power who don't question sources of supposed facts are putting a big "kick me" sign on their a$$.

I have no doubt that Hillary is more capable of Executive competence if she's elected. She'll make mistakes, but it won't be because she was distracted by something shiny.

Dennis said...


I would never come to AO's defense. He can do that himself. What I was addressing was the use of the "race, "sex," NAZI pejorative, and the general concept that anyone who disagrees with another is the enemy. I did complement AO one time because that was the only time he came close to a reasoned argumentation for his position. One of the reasons I don't read AO, unless something catches my interest, is that reasoned argumentation is not one of AO's strengths. It is usually regurgitated leftist meanderings.


What in Hillary's experience provides any truth that she will be a better executive than almost anyone on the republican side? She has made a mess of almost everything she has ever touched. I have less and less use for Trump, but at least he has experience being an executive and the wherewithal to become a leader. Much like Bill Clinton who had everything needed by a leader except the wherewithal to make tough decisions. His weakness was what led the terrorists we were a weak horse. Again exemplified by Obama. Hillary would be the same,but with the meanest to use the federal government to destroy any American citizen who might have the temerity to challenge her. She will do for gender relations what Obama has done for race relations. If you are a man who likes being a man and you vote for Hillary you are a fool. I cannot see how anyone can listen to Hillary uses of every decisive "card" in the Left's book and not recognize her thesis on Saul Alinski. These rules should be familiar to Hillary and Trump fans because the are both using them.
More than ever now is the time that we need to recognize how much we have in common and accept our differences.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @February 28, 2016 at 6:29 AM:

"More than ever now is the time that we need to recognize how much we have in common and accept our differences."

Accept our differences? The Left claims to "celebrate diversity," and spends every moment of every day vanquishing those who differ from them.

While I accept the spirit of your assertion, I suspect things will have to get ugly for awhile to get back to equilibrium.

Get ready to fight.

Those who love putting peace symbols on everything and seek to "bring people together" seek nothing of the sort. At least the person wearing the Che Guevara shirt is honest... if he knows anything real about Che.

I'm with you on the Nazi pejorative, but the charge was in response to Ares, who loves to use that kind of language. And there's nothing more hilarious than his signoff in his last post: "She'll make mistakes, but it won't be because she was distracted by something shiny." One can only assume he's forgotten about precious metals and other convertible commodities.

priss rules said...

I wish his foreign policy had been more do-nothing.

He messed up Libya, Ukraine, and Syria.

Big time.

And his pivot in Asia is unnecessarily stirring up tension with China.

It's as if US wants more cold wars.