When Barack Obama became president in 2009, he signaled a new order for the foreign policy of the United States. Within days of taking office, he announced he would shift the focus of our counterterrorism efforts, put the CIA out of the interrogation business and announced plans to shut Guantanamo Bay.
The administration’s new approach to terrorism would be law-enforcement based and rapprochement with Russia, Iran, Syria and Venezuela would be the new order of the day. He quickly followed with his speech in Cairo, which was widely panned as the start of his apology tour for the United States. So smitten was the international community with the prospect of “change” in American foreign policy, that they awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize before any of his proposed changes had even been implemented and results seen.
So what became of the president’s new order foreign policy? A quick review of the record shows that, if anything changed, it quickly went back to being the same.
In the past couple of weeks, we have learned that Iran planned to commit an act of war on American soil by bombing the Saudi embassy and assassinating the Saudi ambassador. This was followed by the arrest of a Syrian agent who allegedly spied on protestors and turned information over to Syrian intelligence so the protestors could be harassed and intimidated.
Meanwhile, there are widespread reports of harassment of American diplomats in Russia — reset anyone? — and Hugo Chavez, despite his ailment, continues his bellicose anti-American rhetoric. So much for rapprochement.
The recent death of terrorist cleric Anwar Awlaki showed that Americans who align themselves with al-Qaida have a lot more to consider than the risk that they may be sent to Guantanamo Bay. We can all imagine the outcry from the those on the left if Awlaki had been killed while George W. Bush was president. Their deafening silence, considering how worked up they could get over enhanced interrogation, is telling.
It is also telling that President Obama, who released Bush administration interrogation memos over the objections of several former CIA directors, will not release memos outlining his new counterterrorism authorities even in response to requests by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
My point here is not so much to criticize President Obama as it is to make the point that there are no silver bullets in foreign policy and national security — nor are there quick fixes like he offered when he first took office.
- There were good reasons why U.S. policy toward Iran was confrontational rather than conciliatory and we did not have an ambassador to Syria.
- There were good reasons relations with Russia were strained and we treated Venezuela like the pariah state that it is.
- And yes, there were good reasons for Guantanamo Bay and CIA interrogation.
As all current signs point to, those reasons did not go away just because the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. changed.
The other point to make is that foreign policy is quite simply hard. Attempts to find new order sometimes result in chaos. The heady days of the Arab Spring have turned into something far murkier, as elements of the new Libyan authority are accused of systematic discrimination and brutality against black Libyans and the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to play a key role in any future government in Egypt, where Christian Coptic churches are being burned and relations with Israel and stability along the Sinai continue deteriorate. In Syria and Iran, attempts to overturn brutal regimes have resulted in the deaths of thousands and inaction from the international community.
Meanwhile, the IAEA reportedly will soon denounce the military nature of Iran’s nuclear program, providing more proof that Iran’s nuclear pursuit is really about getting the bomb.
What we need now is a move toward a bipartisan foreign policy and recognition that the U.S. standing in the international order knows no political divide — we are all Americans. The partisan sniping that began during the Bush administration and continued into the early days of the Obama administration represents a dangerous trend that needs to be stopped. America now faces its most difficult and dangerous international environment in decades and our traditional allies, such as Israel, find themselves perched on the edge in a Middle East grown more dangerous. We must find a consensus approach.
One way President Obama can provide a strong demonstration of this new approach is by giving back the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize should be awarded for achievement, not on vague notions of “change.” President Obama’s strongest foreign policy successes have come as a result of his continuation of programs started by President Bush — a true indication of those programs bipartisan nature and certainly not what the Nobel Committee had in mind with its premature award. The reality is, however, that every American president, on a bipartisan basis, has to do what is in the best interest of our nation. President Obama cannot and should not be bound by the unrealistic hope that his Nobel represents.
As the world orders and reorders itself, we need an American foreign policy that is focused squarely on securing our homeland and projecting our values of liberty and freedom abroad. We must focus on detecting and preventing the next attack, and we must minimize the space in which threats have to grow. Our enemies, foreign and terrorist may feel invigorated by our divisions. But by coming together and focusing on first things first, we will give our enemies a moment of pause.
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who was chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, is a board member of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service.
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