A damning indictment of Obama's 'strategic thinking'Newsweek's Niall Ferguson has a damning indictment of President Obama's 'strategic thinking' in the Middle East (although he attributes a major portion of the blame to former National Security Adviser James Jones).
The contrast between the foreign policy of the Nixon-Ford years and that of President Jimmy Carter is a stark reminder of how easily foreign policy can founder when there is a failure of strategic thinking. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, which took the Carter administration wholly by surprise, was a catastrophe far greater than the loss of South Vietnam.Note one objective that Ferguson doesn't list: Settling the Israeli-'Palestinian' dispute. It's a curious omission, because, as I have written dozens of times over the last three years, the establishment of a 'Palestinian state' is the one foreign policy goal that genuinely seems to interest Obama.
Remind you of anything? “This is what happens when you get caught by surprise,” an anonymous American official told The New York Times last week. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt moves from stability to turmoil? None.”
I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration’s strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries. It is only by doing these things—ranking priorities and gaming scenarios—that a coherent foreign policy can be made. The Israelis have been hard at work doing this. All the president and his NSC team seem to have done is to draft touchy-feely speeches like the one he delivered in Cairo early in his presidency.
These were his words back in June 2009:
America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
Those lines will come back to haunt Obama if, as cannot be ruled out, the ultimate beneficiary of his bungling in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains by far the best organized opposition force in the country—and wholly committed to the restoration of the caliphate and the strict application of Sharia. Would such an outcome advance “tolerance and the dignity of all human beings” in Egypt? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Grand strategy is all about the necessity of choice. Today, it means choosing between a daunting list of objectives: to resist the spread of radical Islam, to limit Iran’s ambition to become dominant in the Middle East, to contain the rise of China as an economic rival, to guard against a Russian “reconquista” of Eastern Europe—and so on. The defining characteristic of Obama’s foreign policy has been not just a failure to prioritize, but also a failure to recognize the need to do so. A succession of speeches saying, in essence, “I am not George W. Bush” is no substitute for a strategy.
Imagine if over the last two years, even a fraction of the effort that has been put into a 'Palestinian state' had been put into edging Egypt toward democracy or pushing out Iran's fascist government (which beat demonstrators on Monday). The world would be a different place. Instead, the world seems to be quickly moving backward toward its Middle Ages domination by Islam.
What could go wrong?
Read the whole thing.