In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
America stands on a precipice of catastrophic foreign policy decisions by an Obama administration that refuses to create a single pathway towards strategy, let alone victory. The administration’s foreign policy team is dominated by poll watchers and opinion model makers.
The Clinton team was a rollicking disaster, and, up until the current administration, was notorious for always having its finger in the wind. But even it could not hold a candle to this crew. America survived the Clinton years because there was such a large power gulf with any potential enemy that ineptitude and incompetence were luxuries that could be afforded, at least until 9/11, when eight catastrophic years had to be paid for. This “payment” did not happen under Clinton’s watch; instead, it became a problem for the next president, who was forced to repair the damage and create a strategy for moving forward that required stamina, sacrifice and skill.
But when the Obama administration came in, it dismissed the Bush years out of hand, contemptuous of a strategy that it could not – and did not try – to understand. For years, many thought the members of the Obama team did not like the Bush Doctrine because they were ideologically opposed to the clear markers of preemption, prevention, primacy and democracy promotion that it contained. There is some truth to this, in that team Obama, like team Clinton before it, simply denounced this kind of traditional Americanism in favor of a neoliberal aversion to risk.
However, it is becoming painfully clear that this picture is not entirely correct; the Obama administration simply does not have the ability to understand the world. It is contemptuous of geopolitical realities, historical forces, traditional diplomacy, the American empire of reason and simple statecraft. The Obama spin machine makes the Clinton war room look like the clubhouse from “The Little Rascals.” The machine is not devoted to a mission of victory but to a victory of perception. The list is too long to name, but some lowlights are worth noting.
We made a red line, and then we denied it. We claimed victory over Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons by ignoring the 99 percent of deaths caused by other means. We left Iraq because we could not get a status of forces agreement, until we returned to Iraq without a status of forces agreement. We did not notice the Islamic State group and the deterioration of the Iraqi military until the Islamic militants were at the gates of Baghdad. We were not warned about the Islamic State group until it was discovered that our intelligence community has been warning us for years.
The latest iteration is Obama’s current attempt to denigrate the U.S. intelligence community and throw it under the bus. As such, there must be a frontal assault against the Obama myth machine in order to avoid a crisis in international politics that may be irreparable. The American electorate, Congress and our allies should force the Obama administration to answer the following questions with clarity:
- How big is the active coalition?
- Is there going to be an allied command?
- Why is the United States not setting the terms of the mission?
- Why are some coalition partners allowed to pick and choose targets?
- Who will be committing ground personnel?
- What are the terms of victory?
- What if the Free Syrian Army, the Iraqis and the Kurds are unable to dislodge the Islamic extremists?
- Where does the Iranian and Syrian regime fit into these plans?
- If the coalition is successful in degrading the Islamic State group in Syria, what is to stop the Assad regime from filling the vacuum if the Free Syrian Army is too weak at that time?
- Is the West engaged in macro-tunnel vision in light of events in Iran, Ukraine, North Korea and the South China Sea?
President George W. Bush was criticized for creating a coalition of 36 nations whose mission was clear. Under Bush, the mission determined the coalition, not the other way around. We have seen what happens when the coalition determines the mission. That bad theater has played out before, and there is not a single incidence in our history where it has not been an unmitigated tragedy.
There are many ways this could end badly. The Obama administration could revive the Clinton playbook: Carry out a series of strikes, assess some level of bomb damage and declare a hollow victory. It could also go to the next chapter in the Clinton years: Get involved in a conflict that your presidency does not care about or understand, allow mission creep to reach a level where things go horribly out of control and then pull out suddenly, leaving civilians and allies to fend for themselves.
Many realists and even liberals love to invoke the Powell Doctrine, or even the Weinberger Doctrine, which was more comprehensive. In each of these codes, the mission, terms of victory, reasons for action, public support, the use of overwhelming force and an exit strategy are determined before action has taken place. Under Obama, we are witnessing none of these. American credibility, honor and future relations are at stake.