WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama does have a foreign policy. It’s called war.
Unfortunately, the president has not defined any real difference between his hawkish approach to international issues and that of his predecessor, former president George W. Bush.
Where’s the change we can believe in?
Bush left a legacy of two wars, neither of which was ever fully explained or justified. Obama has merely picked up the sword that Bush left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both wars lack a formal congressional declaration of war.
In the struggle against terrorism one might say, “Who cares?”
Well, one group that cares consists of Americans who follow the rules of the road and think we should honour all the treaties we have promoted and signed over the years.
The president gave short shrift to foreign policy in his State of the Union address, mentioning neither the lives lost nor the cost of the global hostilities that the U.S. has involved itself in. He also didn’t mention U.S. policies in the Middle East, though those are the root cause of many of our problems.
While U.S. special envoy George Mitchell has a hopeful outlook for the resumption of the stalemated talks between the Israelis and Palestinians after a year of trying, Obama seems to have temporarily thrown in the towel.
Obama did say he was keeping his promise to leave Iraq “to its people” by the end of August.
“Make no mistake,” the president said, “this war is ending and all of our troops are coming home.” Meanwhile, frequent suicide bombings continue in that beleaguered country.
Afghanistan is a different story. U.S. forces there are involved in manhunts and the drone-rocketing of al-Qaida and Taliban leaders. But the cost in civilian life is heavy when drones are used and whole families have been wiped out to get one suspected leader.
The U.S. seems to have convinced the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan that it’s their war too. The Washington Post said the loss of Hakimullah Mehsud — the top Pakistani Taliban leader who reportedly died from wounds suffered from a drone missile attack — has dealt a fatal blow to his ruthless followers.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military web has spread to Yemen, where American intelligence teams have joined Yemeni troops in planning missions against — but not actually fighting — al-Qaida elements. Scores have been killed there.
Then there’s the ramped-up U.S. sabre-rattling toward Iran.
In his speech, Obama warned Iran of “consequences” if it didn’t play ball and co-operate on nuclear inspections. It’s unclear whether those consequences are of the financial sanction variety or, more ominously, of a pre-emptive military strike by the U.S. or Israel.
All this comes at a time when the U.S. has bolstered its naval presence in the Persian Gulf and the neo-conservatives are calling for “regime change” in Iran. Sound familiar?
But one prominent neo-con, Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, sees the possibility of peaceful regime change in Iran.
Writing recently in the Washington Post, Kagan said it would be a tragedy “if Israel damaged the likelihood of regime change” with an airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Organic regime change — rather than a military strike — could change the Iranian equation dramatically, Kagan concludes.
Iran, reacting to Western pressure or from fear of an attack, recently offered to send its uranium abroad for enrichment for industrial use.
There are new tensions in other parts of the world. For example, China is upset with the U.S. $6 billion-plus arms sale to its nemesis, Taiwan. China’s also irked at Google for its belated pushback against Chinese hacking into Google's Gmail accounts.
Obama will add to his world travels soon, going to Indonesia, where he spent some of his childhood, and Australia. In April he will attend a world conference in London on ways to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.
So while the president’s Democratic base of support mutters about his abandonment of health reform, immigration reform and other choice policies, Obama can take solace in support from the Republican party whenever he flexes U.S. military muscle.
And so this president takes his place among other U.S. chief executives who have sought the glory of leading the nation in military conflict. He has attained the desired status of “War President.”
New York Times News Service