Obama had an international plan, and he followed it.
Much to everyone else’s disappointment. They thought he was just talking pretty.
It was about a year into Obama’s presidency that I first heard the D-word in causal company. Disappointment, that is. I’d started hearing it from a few expert types only a few months prior.
We were living in London in an enclave of expats from all over the world. Oh, how everyone loved the idea of Obama. He would usher in a kinder, gentler America with a better-spoken voice.
To non-Americans, that voice signalled class, education, and thereby leadership. Problem is, in America, voice does not signal much, and to the extent it signals leadership, it does so inversely. The more polished the speaker, the more likely that speaker knows little of reality and leadership. (Look at the meltdown going on in our universities. The UK’s no-platforming trend is probably a decade behind our student coddling impulses. Our institutions of higher education are not turning out leaders. They are turning out conformists who think they are leaders. This trend gets stronger as the university gets more prestigious. That they are well spoken simply allows them to hide the truth for a while.)
And so it was with Obama. Actual and competent diplomats, politicians, and expert commentators, quickly caught up with American experts and realised that Obama and his appointees either had no idea how the world worked or did not care. At first, the competent simply fell silent. Obama was on everyone’s smiling lips until he was sworn in. Then, nothing until he won the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing in October 2009. That’s when the D-word started. By the time I heard it in that casual conversation—with my well-read hairdresser actually—the professionals had moved on to outward scoffing. American foreign policy had gone from a disappointment to bitter laughter in a matter of months.
By the time of the Libyan crisis, Obama’s lack of foreign policy dependability was well known. And any hopeful holdouts for American intervention when it counted, they learned their lesson.
I’m not sure how so many missed the signs that Obama had no foreign policy plan other than exit. He was going to get America out of foreign entanglements using his speech-making skills. That was it. That was the plan. And he stuck to it, through each escalating international crisis.
He did not have an intricate foreign policy strategy. He cared not for tactics. In fact, I’d wager that he did not know the difference between strategy and tactics when he was elected.
The entire plan was to have America walk away. He wanted to divert the money we spent on military and defence to social programmes. He expected the world would be okay with that because he had charisma, and he was having America follow the enlightened Europeans’ lead on social welfare. Flattery by imitation. Finally, America would be truly civilised with a likeable leader! Anti-Americanism and American unfairness solved simply by his talent for inspirational speeches.
In an ‘if you examine what Obama has done not what he has said’ essay in a recent New Yorker, John Cassidy praises Obama for sticking to his plan:
The immediate issue is the West’s failure to prevent Vladimir Putin from destabilising eastern Ukraine, but the concerns about Obama run deeper and broader than that. He stands accused of prematurely pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan; encouraging the Arab Spring protests but doing nothing to prevent authoritarian regimes from reasserting control; issuing “red lines” and ignoring when they are crossed; failing to clinch a trade deal with Japan; and, well, you get the idea. Underlying the individual charges is an argument that the President neither cares for nor understands foreign policy, and that he is largely content to react to events overseas based on domestic political considerations…
[Setting aside Benghazi as a failure of security arrangements] The rest of the charges share a common theme: Obama lacks a coherent foreign-policy strategy—an “Obama doctrine”—and, because of this, he tends to behave opportunistically and inconsistently.
Is that really the case? It would be equally accurate to say that Obama, for the most part, has been following a consistent strategy—but one that many foreign-policy experts don’t like, because it militates against American interventionism. This strategy, which some would call “realism,” is based on cold-hearted self-interest. It’s equally skeptical of far-flung military entanglements and high-minded liberal nostrums. It’s a way of looking at the world that dates back to Machiavelli, and one which, at this moment in history, happens to have the overwhelming support of the American public.
It does. And the ominous events we are seeing now were writing on the wall eight years ago. Get America out of foreign affairs. That was the plan. And in that, we must admit, Obama has been successful.