Reflections Magazine August-September, 2011
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A tale of four failed presidencies

Obama and predecessors squander American might


When George Bush Sr. took office in 1989, America, with its mighty military and international prestige, was poised to lead the world into a new era of peace, freedom and prosperity. Our only serious rival, the Soviet Union, was on the verge of collapse. Nuclear war and widespread nuclear weapons proliferation no longer seemed to be threats. Despite the tensions of the Cold War, Europe had been at peace for over 40 years and the prospects for expanding freedom in Europe, including Russia, were strong. China was beginning to liberalize its economy and showed signs of become less hostile to the capitalist West. A number of difficult problems involving the Middle East remained, but for the most part, these problems were confined to Southwest Asia and North Africa. Overall, we felt confident that we were about to enjoy the fruits of what was widely called the “peace dividend.”

The world in 2011 is clearly a different place. Instead of leading the world and acting on our own initiative, our government feels constrained to subject America’s foreign policy and military operations to outdated alliances or to the approval of weak and hypocritical international organizations such as the United Nations. The Russians and Chinese remain our implacable foes. The specter of nuclear proliferation and war is real, not only in North Korea and Iran, but also all over an increasingly unstable Middle East. We have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than twice as long as it took us to fight World War II. At the same time, we find ourselves involved in a protracted and deadly conflict with jihadist Islam, a recrudescence of an ancient conflict that we thought had been conclusively decided in the West’s favor generations ago.

There is no man less prepared to handle these problems than President Barack Obama. His incompetent administration of foreign policy has been amply demonstrated over the past two years. However, a substantial part of the responsibility for the dismal state of our foreign affairs must also be attributed to Mr. Obama’s three predecessors who, as a consequence of their poorly-conceived or executed policies, helped create the mess that we find ourselves in today.

Consider the following observations, all related to policies of the three administrations preceding the presidency of Barack Obama. Instead of disbanding NATO, we expanded NATO to the door of Russia and refused Russia any meaningful participation in NATO or any in other type of new alliance or relationship. We set the unfortunate precedent of subjugating American foreign policy and military action to the approval and guidelines of the United Nations in 1991, resulting in an incomplete victory in Iraq that necessitated a costly second war after years of futile police actions and further brutalities by the Iraqi dictator. The conducting of many key aspects of our foreign policy and overseas military actions based upon the approval of international agencies and coalitions became an important principle of all presidential administrations after the 1991 Gulf War.

Furthermore, we followed Europe's lead in the Balkans resulting in the first war in Europe in fifty years with disastrous consequences for all parties concerned. We ignored the Islamist threat manifest since at least 1993 with the first World Trade Center bombing and squandered opportunities pre-9/11 to take out bin Laden. Even after the 9/11 debacle, our government not only failed to adequately define and explain the growing threat from militant Islam but also failed to articulate a comprehensive national strategy designed to first contain and then defeat the jihadist threat.

We went after possible weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and found none, while doing nothing substantial about the real threat of such weapons in Iran. Instead, we ceded leadership in dealing with the growing Iranian nuclear threat to Europe and the UN, rather than taking definitive action ourselves when it would have been easy to do so. Meanwhile, we pursued an incoherent policy of nuclear containment of North Korea that ended in abject failure.

We made errors in multiple theaters. We prolonged initially successful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, because we opted for policies of social work in these countries rather than definitive victory. We were ineffective in dealing with an increasingly aggressive China, and found no successful means of opposing China’s flagrantly mercantilist policies and its pilfering of our technology and military secrets. We repeatedly forced Israel to make unilateral concessions in dealing with its Arab neighbors, resulting in increased terrorism and the destabilization of Lebanon.

Mr. Obama could have exerted himself to counteract the deleterious effects of the policy errors and oversights of his predecessors. Instead, he has significantly worsened our foreign relations as a result of his inexperience, naïveté and desire to be first citizen of the world rather than President of the United States. Therefore it is certainly proper to criticize Mr. Obama for the present gloomy state of our foreign affairs. However it must be remembered that the precarious global situation that we presently find ourselves in was in large part brought about by the actions of the three administrations that preceded Mr. Obama’s presidency.

-William J. Meisler is a physician residing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


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