Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Uncertainty Doctrine

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 25, 2012

Remind me again why this administration is supposed to receive praise for its foreign policy:

Obama announced a troop surge in Afghanistan and then immediately a pull out date. Should our allies stick with us as we take out just enough bad guys to make the Taliban more vengeful when they return? Or instead should Kabul just make deals with the Taliban? An Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable but so is Israel removing one from the hands of Iran. Assad must go, but we will not do anything to make that happen. On the other hand maybe its best if he just stayed — easier to work with than the alternative.

China was a partner in global action problems — perhaps even a G2 was in the offing! Together we would work on climate change, nonproliferation, who knows what else? Now the United States needs to pivot to Asia to keep China in check.

Here is another part of the uncertainty doctrine that must leave Europeans and Middle Easterners scratching their heads: The United States is pivoting to Asia (under fiscal constraint) but not abandoning its allies in Europe or the Middle East.

The pivot, we tell the Chinese, is not about them. But then Manila and Tokyo ask: “What do you mean the pivot isn’t about China. The Chinese are unwelcome visitors into our waters at least once a week!”

Oh, and we have new battle plan called “Air Sea Battle” that again is not about China. However, it is meant to operate in “anti-access” environments — those in which enemies have many missiles, submarines, and cyber warfare capabilities. Sounds like China. We will be able to operate again in those environments once the plan is executed, but we will not execute it because we are cutting the defense budget, so China should worry a bit but not too much. Our allies should have just a little dose of reassurance to go along with their fears.

India is a strategic partner whom we would like to join us in checking (or not checking?) China but we are going to leave Afghanistan for India to fight over with its archrival Pakistan.

If the administration’s foreign policy record escapes notice this election season, it will only be because the administration’s economic record is such a target-rich environment.

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