Over at the Weekly Standard, my friend Lee Smith — one of the shrewdest voices in American journalism on the subject of the Middle East and foreign policy — takes the measure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. It ain’t pretty:
The Obama chapter in American foreign policy ends like the climax of an action movie—with a fireball growing in the distance and filling the screen as a man in silhouette approaches in slow motion and then veers off camera. Barack Obama has set the Middle East on fire, and now it’s spreading.
The Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran has emboldened the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, which now makes war openly in four Arab states (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen) and is a growing threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia. The deal with Tehran that Obama boasts of as his signature foreign policy initiative guarantees, as the president himself acknowledged, that Iran will have an industrial-scale nuclear weapons program within 15 years.
After a 40-year absence from the Middle East, Russia has returned to the region, where it bombs Syria’s schools and hospitals as America and Europe watch helplessly. Washington’s traditional regional allies are scrambling to adjust to the new reality, which for the likes of Israel, Jordan, and Turkey means an opportunistic power on their borders that is allied with their existential enemies.
For Europe, the millions seeking refuge from the conflagration are agents of potential instability on the continent in the years to come; some in their midst are terrorists plain and simple. In just four years, or one presidential term, a civil uprising that started in Syria became a great Middle Eastern war over a host of sectarian, religious, and political hostilities dating back centuries.
Naturally, the country’s first affirmative action president doesn’t see it that way; no doubt, by his lights, he’s still every bit the equal of FDR and Abraham Lincoln he’s always thought himself to be. For a chief executive like Barack Hussein Obama, coddled practically from birth by a series of handlers, sycophants, media worshipers, excuse-makers and hagiographers, being an utter failure means never having to say you’re sorry. The half-black president with the Muslim name was supposed to at least bring some cultural empathy to the thorny, if not to say intractable, problems of the Middle East — not just the eternal Arab-Israeli conflict but the even more eternal Muslim-Muslim conflict, not to mention the collateral damage of the one-sided Muslim-Christian conflict. That he hasn’t solved any of it is not his fault, but that he has exacerbated it most surely is.
Critics and even admirers of the president say that Syria will be a stain on his record. But that’s not how Obama sees it. The death and suffering of so many undoubtedly pains him, as he says. He says he wonders if he could have done anything else. Of course he could have, but he believed he had better reasons not to….
Obama’s foreign policy issued in part from his understanding of global realities but more from his interpretation of the American character. He believed that Americans tend to make a mess of things around the world. Obama is like a narrator in a Graham Greene novel; in our relations with the rest of humanity, as he sees it, we are 300 million naïfs abroad, whose intentions may be good but who lack the tragic sense that the rest of the world feels in its bones.
So who’s the naif now? Obama was less a Graham Green figure than Mark Twain’s Innocent Abroad. The way Smith sees it, Obama’s entire rationale was to wean America from what he saw as its shoot-first second nature; his entire foreign-policy apparatus became Dickens’ Circumlocution Office from Little Dorrit, dedicated to the proposition of How Not to Do It:
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving — HOW NOT TO DO IT.
And that’s the Obama foreign policy in a nutshell. Of course in domestic affairs, the Choom Ganger from Punahou has been the exact opposite, baldly lying about such sub-rosa proclivities as same-sex marriage and hairy transvestites in the ladies’ loo until he was well past his final election. In both areas, however, he’s been a disgrace to the office and to the country, and we will be well rid of him when he finally leaves on Jan. 20.
Obama’s foreign policy, in the end, was not primarily about the rest of the world—it was about transforming the character of America. So where are we eight years on? Gelded, as he intended.
And, to coin a phrase, that’s one of the many reasons we now have Donald Trump. America never has been and never will be a neutered metrosexual among nations. As the Obama-ites are about to find out.