Sunday, November 30, 2014

Obama's Foreign Policy Makes America and the World More Dangerous

Shortly after the Midterm election, an event called the Munk Debates was held on November 5 to discuss the theme, “Has Obama’s foreign policy emboldened US enemy and made the world more dangerous?”. The Munk Debates are semiannual panel discussions on public policy issues, which are held in Tronto under auspices of a Canadian philanthropist Peter Munk who owns a mining company Barrick Gold. This event draws extensive attention in the English-speaking world, and broadcasted by Caple Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) and CBC of Canada, C-SPAN of the United States, and BBC of the United Kingdom. See the video below.




This event invited four panelists to discuss negative impacts of Obama’s foreign policy on world peace. Pro discussants to this theme were Rober Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Bret Stevens, Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Con discussants were Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation, and Fareed Zakaria, Host of International Affairs Program of CNN. In these past 6 years, America’s enemies are more multiplied, and behaving more provocatively than ever. Russia’s aggressive policy to Ukraine horrified Europe, as Putin’s behavior to change national borders by force is unprecedented since the end of World War II. The number of Jihadists is rising sharply, and they even found a state-like realm ruled by Sharia law.

Despite the growing global insecurity, perception gaps between Americans and non-Americans are considerable. While Americans disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy far more than they do of domestic policy, it seems that people outside the Unites States still see Obama positively, as if he were the savior to overturn Bush’s unilateralism and overcome domestic racism, as surveys in Germany, Indonesia, and China show people see him favorably. However, Barak Obama’s performance on the global stage is extremely poor. As Bret Stevens said at the event, Obama has not achieved his election promise in foreign policy from curbing terrorism in the Middle East and withdrawing US Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, resetting relations with Russia, to improving ties with Europe and the Islamic world. To the contrary, America’s enemies are growing more active. Jihadists are rampant even though Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Russia has reset the reset, and become more adversarial.

Slaughter and Zakaria defend Obama that it is the change of global politics like the rise of non-state actors and emerging nations that matters, which makes the world more complicated. Certainly, Obama is not necessarily responsible for every challenge that America faces today. However, we must doubt his credential as a leader of the state, in view of his precarious and fatal remark to call ISIS a JV team (“What Obama said about Islamic State as a 'JV' team”; PolitiFact.com; September 7, 2014). That startled his own senior officials like Leon Panetta and Michèle Flournoy, and military staff (“Obama ignores Panetta’s warning”; Washington Post; October 6, 2014). History tells us that great empires were often defeated by minor tribes. It is dangerous to belittle the enemy, however weak they are.

In a global security environment as mentioned above, the focal point was the impact of Obama’s failure to meet the red line to stop chemical weapon abuse in Syria, because it was regarded as America’s weakness to manage crisis around the world. Russia’s aggression to Ukraine is a typical case. Furthermore, Kagan stressed that allies from Japan to Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are increasingly concerned with Obama’s appeasement to their enemies in their neighborhood such as China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS. Rising doubts to American leadership brings about further damages to world peace. Democracy is declining, and rule based world order is defied by autocrats. These points are the core of Kagan’s argument in this event and his publications. Apparently, Obama’s lack of confidence in American leadership makes the world more and more dangerous. For a rebuttal, Slaughter repeatedly asked pro-panelists to prove that global security environment would be much better off, without Obama. But her comment is meaningless, because there is no way of seeing a virtual world. Politics is neither mathematics nor philosophy. However, his fatal error of ignoring national security experts allowed jihadist vandalism in Iraq and Syria. His reset with Russia invigorated Putin. There is no way of denying their ripple effects around the globe.

However, Slaughter raised a critical issue of the post Cold War world, which is the rise of non-state actors, including private corporations, civil societies, individuals, and so forth. She insisted that in an increasingly complicated world like this, American leadership needs to be based on multilateral organizations like the United Nations and its affiliations, rather than exerted through military measures. Also, Slaughter stressed that trade and investment agreements, notably the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), are more important to bolster US preeminence in this century than military actions around the globe. Zakaria said furthermore, that military interventions resulted in catastrophic failure without advancing American values and national interests as typically seen in Vietnam, while the UN and the Bretton Woods systems make much contribution to facilitate American leadership and abate anti-Americanism.

However, it is a complete mistake to under-evaluate military dimensions in US leadership in the world. Though con debaters commented so negatively regarding US military action as the world policeman, Kagan pointed out that Slaughter herself endorsed military intervention in Syria for R2P against Assad, and agreed to fight against Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraq War. In addition, I would argue that Kantian diplomacy advocated by Slaughter and Zakaria is reinforced by Hobbesian diplomacy of Kagan and Stevens. Let me mention some cases. To begin with, I would mention the Iran crisis in 1946, which was the first incident, brought to the UN Security Council. As widely known, Josef Stalin’s Red Army continued to stay in northern Iran, even after World War II. It was not just UN resolution, but the potential of a military clash with America and Britain that moved Soviet troops out. Remember Stalin seized opportunities to expand influence and take over neighboring areas in Eastern Europe and Japan’s Northern Territories, without military challengers to fill the power vacuum. Today, Vladimir Putin behaves so similar to him. Shortly after the Iran crisis, the United States led a multinational coalition for airlift against the Berlin blockade in 1948. Subsequently, the United States sent armed forces to fight the Korean War to defend South Korea from North Korean and Chinese invasion, under the name of UN authority. These visible and invisible military interventions boosted the American world order, and Kantian approaches like UN or multilateral initiatives.

While Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq and poor handling of Syria has made American allies in the Middle East and around the globe nervous about their national security, Zakaria argued that the pivot to Asia deserves credit as an adaptation to 21st century world, in which Asian economies like China, India, and Indonesia would be increasingly important in world trade and investment. However, Kagan pointed out that Obama’s pivot was simply rhetoric, because the TPP which is the core of his Asian policy was deadlocked, and it is just making power vacuum in the Middle East as bitterly criticized by his former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Under the name of strategic rebalance to Asia, Obama failed to manage challenges in Asia itself and the rest of the world. China and Russia are increasingly overconfident, and nuclear weapons are proliferating to North Korea and Iran. Furthermore, Kagan said that Obama’s pivot to Asia lacks strategic consideration and so “market-oriented” about the emerging economies. This is the vital point why I am strongly skeptic to Obama’s Asia Pacific policy. I regard America’s strong will to stay as the sole superpower far more important than strategic balance.

In the face of growing Chinese threat, Japan’s response is a vital focus among American policymakers. Kagan said the Japan was so worried of Obama’s appeasement for China, which provoked increasingly nationalist, self-reliant and independent moves among Japanese leaders. In addition, Stevens raised an alarm that Japan’s plutonium facility would be used for nuclear weapons if America appeared unreliable for Nagatacho. I agree with them that Obama’s superpower suicide erodes trust to the United States among Japanese policymakers. However, I do not share with their concerns that current Japan is shifting away from the United States. Certainly, Yokio Hatoyama’s first DPJ administration was so independent and orientalist as to push for the East Asian Community without America. He was an odd man out among postwar Japanese prime ministers, like President Recep Tayyp Erdoğan of Turkey and President Park Geunhye of South Korea are. However, that was rectified under the same DPJ prime minister Yoshihiko Noda. Current prime minister Shinzo Abe may be very nationalist deep in his heart, but as the top leader of the cabinet, he advocates a strong alliance of democracies in his global-oriented diplomacy. Moreover, Abe persuaded Erdoğan to cancel the anti-air missile deal with China to save the Western alliance from autocracy. That may have drove South Korea to reconsider the similar deal with China (“Official: THAAD missile defense system being considered for South Korea”; Stars and Stripes; October 1, 2014).

On the other hand, Japanese leaders must be cautious on wartime history for a staunch and stable alliance with the United States. That is not because Caroline Kennedy was “disappointed” with Abe’s tribute at the Yasukuni shrine last year. She is just Obama’s ambassador, and will go home when her terms ends. No one expects so much on her knowledge of foreign policy. We must see global implication of the alliance from long term perspectives. Kagan and Stevens are well-aware of critical threats of China, while liberals and the business community are more interested in trade and investment opportunities there. But even they worry nationalist and revisionist symptoms in Japan, however small they are. Therefore, Japanese leaders must be cautious enough so as not to help the axis of autocracies led by China.

Finally, I would argue that US leadership cannot be maximized under a president who has little confidence in American values and ideals. Since the inauguration, Barak Obama has been making controversial and apologetic remarks to US foreign policy (“Barack Obama should stop apologising for America”; Daily Telegraph; 2 June, 2009). The same line of thought is expressed in his notorious utterance that America is no longer the world policeman (“Team America no longer wants to be the World’s Police”; Washington Post; September 13, 2013). Such self effacing attitudes have not improved the image of the United States in the world. Simply, autocratic major powers like China and Russia regard Obama’s foreign policy reflects weakening America, and they act accordingly and over confidently, as seen in changing national border by force in Crimea and endangering free navigation of the sea in the South China and the East China seas. Those who hate America hate America, whether Washington is dove or hawk. Long term allies are increasingly worried. Recently reported Iran’s airstrike on ISIS is a critical incident (“Iran Denies it Flew ISIS Airstrikes in Iraq, Pentagon Says Different”; USNI News; December 3, 2014 and “Iran confirms it carried out air strikes in Iraq”; Al Arabiya; December 6, 2014), if Obama permitted their penetration into Shiite areas in Iraq while processing the nuclear talk. Obama’s fundamental view of the world is the key to the question of the last Munk Debates.