Obama's foreign policy failures [Commentary]

Critical analysis of Obama administration foreign policy is rendered more difficult by America's neo-isolationist mood. The bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left most Americans in no mood for further military engagements, particularly in regions long known for their tribal and sectarian strife.

The angst is spread far beyond the anti-war left, too. Middle America 's sons and daughters have witnessed enough carnage to make future adventurism a dubious proposition. Accordingly, leaders from both sides of the aisle understand that any proposed new mission must come with a compelling moral rationale, achievable "victory strategy" and viable "after care" plan.


America has now twice elected an anti-war activist uncomfortable with the sustained projection of U.S. military might. The record speaks for itself. The Obama "reset" began with a world apology tour directed to the Muslim world. Over time, it developed into incremental American retreat from the international stage. Indeed, it is now the French (of all people) engaged against Bashar Assad in Syria, the mullahs in Iran and a resurgent Vladimir Putin in Russia.

The primary victims of this passivity are American strategic interests and the state of Israel.


Regarding the former, the amateurish handling of the Syrian WMD issue (the administration's "red line" never really mattered) and the outsourcing of American heavy lifting policy goals to the Russians has generated great uneasiness among moderate Arab states. Allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, heretofore dependent on a strong American presence in the perpetually troubled Middle East, must now alter their internal calculus regarding America's long-term commitment to their neighborhood.

Israel's plight is more precarious. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been projecting a weakened America when he delivered an embarrassing Oval Office security lecture to a clearly agitated president in 2011. But Mr. Netanyahu could not have imagined a situation where a "desperate for a deal" U.S. Administration would lift (effective) sanctions against Iran in exchange for bomb making on a slightly longer time frame.

Congressional disapproval was immediate and bipartisan. Obama stalwart Chuck Schumer (D–NY) was the first out of the box in opposition to the deal. Other prominent Democrats (including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.) soon joined with a chorus of Republican lawmakers as a pro-Israel Congress made clear the President will have a difficult sell on Capitol Hill.

Alas, it will be left to the Israeli Air Force (with the quiet cooperation of its Arab neighbors) to ensure the ascendant Iranian bully does not end up with a functional bomb.

The president's weakened domestic position does not help matters; Middle Eastern rogue regimes traditionally respect strength and only strength, yet the president insists on playing the "anti-cowboy" here as well. Recall the anti-war candidate intent on restarting a relationship with Mr. Putin's Russia, sitting down with rogue regimes "without pre-conditions" and informing terrorists of the precise date American troops would leave Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as America recoils from indeterminate foreign missions, it's difficult to see a Kennedy, Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush or even Clinton informing the opposition of a precise exit date.

History teaches that tyrants tend to abuse the weak. Such miscreants also tend to lie, cheat and deceive in order to obtain their frightful ends. Such was the case with the Clinton administration's failed nuclear deal with a tyrannical North Korea — a negotiation led by Wendy Sherman, currently leading our negotiating team with the Iranians. The Iranian agreement is even more dangerous in light of Iran's consistent saber rattling and desire to exert leadership over Sunni Islam. Yet an acquiescent, trusting America simply watches and hopes that the ayatollahs have changed colors — their disingenuous negotiating history (since 1979) notwithstanding.

Life is unfair — particularly if you are the greatest force for good on the planet, you have no designs on acquiring foreign territory and your proud people are weary of bloody foreign engagements.

But here we are, confronted with an Iranian regime touting a long road of non-compliance with international agreements. Add in equal doses of a wobbly U.S. administration, nervous allies and an ascendant Russian bear, and there you have it: a formula for instability in a most vital region. Not exactly a prescription for a safer world.


The demise of a Kennedy-esque mission to spread freedom and self-determination around the world is easily diagnosed. It's the administration's prescription we need to worry about.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is

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