The Consequences Of A Foreign Policy Retrenchment

Few foreign policy analysts would disagree with the proposition that American foreign policy has been more notable for its inaction, rather than its actions. Neither would those analysts contend this is a surprise considering candidate Barack Obama pledged to bring America back home and to take a more passive leadership role in the world. However, just as actions have consequences, a policy of inaction also has consequences politically and militarily.

Ukraine May Define Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy
It will not be how President Barack Obama handled the US withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan, but how he managed the crises in Syria and the Ukraine while will define his legacy, a German columnist contends. “From the very beginning of his presidency, Obama has been more focused on consolidating US forces rather than embarking on new international adventures. He has significantly reduced America’s military footprint overseas, vocally demanded more help from US allies, emphasized the need for multilateral conflict solutions and preferred to focus on domestic issues as much as possible. Obama’s retrenchment largely reflects the desires of the American electorate after eight years of George W. Bush. What does it mean for the current crisis, though? Does his cautious approach to foreign policy automatically mean he is a weak president? And was it a factor in Putin’s decision to act in Crimea? “No matter how Obama views Russia, the Ukraine crisis and how he chooses to confront Putin will be decisive for his foreign policy legacy. That he ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is certainly worthy of praise. But a triumph of his own making remains to be seen,” writes Sebastian Fischer in Der Spiegel.

Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert and former advisor to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, makes the point in his book “Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama.” that for Obama, who has “engaged in retrenchment, policy success is not measured simply by how well the United States extricates itself from old involvements,” it is how well he handled the challenges he faced.

US Unprepared To Fight Emerging Military Rivals
J. Randy Forbes and Elbridge Colby believe the US is losing the military forces war to China. The United States finds itself facing the “geopolitical reality” which we have not faced in some time – the growing presence of another great power with a military that can challenge us at the higher levels of conflict. And we are not responding adequately they argue. “The unfortunate fact is that American defense spending, investment, and procurement do not adequately reflect a focus on maintaining our upper hand against the most serious, technologically challenging competitors. Indeed, one can see this simply by looking at the broad U.S. defense budget, which continues to be divvied up among the services through an artificial and nonstrategic “fair share” approach. This approach is irresponsible in an era in which the United States faces severe challenges to its military superiority in the crucial air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains. Going forward, the budget should be allocated based on strategic requirements. We need to prioritize effort, money, and time towards the programs and capabilities that we need—and let the resources fall where they may—rather than simply placate service and bureaucratic interests,” says Forbes, who is a Republican member of Congress.

The Paradox Of Americans’ Foreign Policy Views
In most public opinion surveys Americans express their desire to retrench from international engagements, which reflects a weariness among many after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama has, for the most part, followed that same view in executing his foreign policy. His reluctance to take any action in Syria is a prime example of his policy reflecting public opinion.

While it would seem natural that Americans would reward Obama with favorable poll ratings, this is not the case, says Robert Kagan of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

“They may prefer a minimalist foreign policy in which the United States no longer plays a leading role in the world and leaves others to deal with their own miserable problems. They may want a more narrowly self-interested American policy. In short, they may want what Obama so far has been giving them. But they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to him for giving them what they want.

“A majority of Americans may not want to intervene in Syria, do anything serious about Iran or care what happens in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt or Ukraine. They may prefer a minimalist foreign policy in which the United States no longer plays a leading role in the world and leaves others to deal with their own miserable problems. They may want a more narrowly self-interested American policy. In short, they may want what Obama so far has been giving them. But they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to him for giving them what they want.”

 

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