Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

If Obama had never become president, what would U.S. foreign policy look like today? [Commentary]

President Barack Obama's foreign policy over the past six years has come under attack from progressives and conservatives alike. From the progressive point of view, there is much to criticize: the killing of civilians by drones, excessive surveillance here and abroad in the name of national security, supporting corrupt regimes when it suits. For this and more, I have opposed Mr. Obama's foreign policy. But, in the early days of the new year, it might be good to take a moment to recognize that however disappointing President Obama's policies may be, it could have been a lot worse if any of his key opponents — Republican or Democrat — were sitting in the White House today.

If a Republican were president — say Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008, or Mitt Romney, who failed to unseat him in 2012 — he would have found a way to keep as many as 30,000 American combat troops in Iraq, making Iraq a violent client state rather than the distant disaster it is today. Troops would continue coming home in coffins, and Iraq would feel the wrath of continued air strikes and raids. If Hillary Clinton had won the primary in 2008 and became president, she would have rallied to keep combat troops in Iraq, too — perhaps only half as many as President McCain. But backlash from continued occupation — no matter the numbers — would be persistent and severe.

If a Republican or Ms. Clinton were president, American troops would still be in Afghanistan, but a higher number of them than the current 50,000 troops there, with slightly reduced numbers for decades to come. Significant numbers of American troops would have continued to suffer casualties monthly.

Meanwhile, the Syrian crisis may or may not have been averted under a different president. But if a Republican were in the White House, American troops would likely be in Syria right now and President Bashar Assad and his goons toppled from power. This would have pleased many Americans, including some liberals who see Syria as a humanitarian disaster in which intervention cannot be avoided.

Yet like Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be heavy American casualties, with the Syrian death toll in the tens of thousands. The fighting would have spilled into Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan — far more than even today. Possibly the war would have also engulfed Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. Iran might become a target of a sustained bombing and possibly a military invasion, pleasing the war hawks in Congress, Israel and American friends in the Gulf — all whom have long pushed for intervention there.

On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton were president, she would have, at a minimum, established a no-fly zone over Syrian air-space and likely dragged the U.S. into a land war in the region, with similar outcomes just described under a Republican administration.

If a Republican were in power during the Egyptian revolution in 2011, he might have supported the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, but he would've done everything he could to prevent the election of any new president hailing from the Muslim Brotherhood. And if Mohamed Morsi had won anyway, the American president would have instituted policies to undermine him. In retrospect, this policy would have pleased many Americans, and certainly the Egyptian military, too. In fact, the outcome would not be dissimilar to what is happening in Egypt today. But with flagrant Republican meddling, the U.S. would be blamed more directly for the political crisis there, fomenting more terrorism and an increase in anti-Americanism overall.

In short, the Middle East and Afghanistan would be hotbeds of wars and hostilities if the outcome of the 2008 or 2012 elections had been any different. In that context, progressives should take a deep breath and appreciate President Obama for avoiding the conflicts his opponents would have blundered straight into, or in the case of Iraq, continued to fight. It is important to remember this discussion when Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of: Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace. His email is ashamoo@som.umaryland.edu.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Jules Witcover: After horrible year, Obama's Christmas break couldn't come soon enough

    Jules Witcover: After horrible year, Obama's Christmas break couldn't come soon enough

    At his last press conference before the break, the president was like a boxer hedged into a corner, warding off shots at his head and body by a White House press corps

  • Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    When Gov. Larry Hogan announced his rejection of the Red Line, an east-west rail transit line in Baltimore City, he seemed to derail the high hopes of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and many other supporters of the $2.9 billion project. "He canceled a project," lamented the mayor, "that would have...

  • Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    In my lifetime (I was born in 1950), the Democrats have had an extraordinary opportunity to run some of America's largest cities and apply their brand of liberal policies to the social and economic problems that have plagued them. Look at the history in just eight of these cities, according to...

  • Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    We like to tell ourselves stories about the virtues of America, particularly as Independence Day rolls around each year. There is, perhaps, no better example than the story we tell our children that no matter your race, gender or wealth, in America you can become anything you want to be. This particular...

  • The burdens of being black

    The burdens of being black

    I was born human more than a half century ago but also birthed with the burden of being black. I discovered racial discrimination early in life. I grew up among the black poor in Hartford, where a pattern of housing segregation prevailed. One city, but separated North end and South end on the basis...

  • Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    For decades, as health care costs continued to spiral upward and patients were stymied by an increasingly fragmented health care system, policy leaders, politicians and front-line caregivers strained to find a better way to care for people.

Comments
Loading

70°