A Unifying Theme for Obama’s Foreign Policy

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Chip East / Reuters

Members enter into the United Nations General Assembly before a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, November 29, 2012.

When President Obama arrives in New York City today for the U.N. General Assembly, the world will be watching to see how he handles slow-boiling crises in Iran and Syria. Will he shake hands with Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani? Can he advance diplomacy aimed at bringing Syria’s civil war to an end?

The answers are not clear. But the fact that Iran and Syria are atop Obama’s agenda points to an emerging core truth about his presidency. Obama’s foreign policy has been a shifting and hard-to-define beast. But it’s clear that one priority drives him above all others: weapons of mass destruction.

The search for an Obama foreign policy doctrine has generally been a futile one. Obama took office in 2009 as a conciliator, extending a hand to rivals and offering a new era of cooperation. Then came his hardheaded pursuit of terrorists, expressed by his Afghanistan surge and his ruthless use of drone strikes. For a moment, his intervention in Libya had Washington buzzing about a new dawn of liberal interventionism. But then Obama spent months assiduously avoiding any involvement in Syria’s civil war, even as tens of thousands died.

No one thread has tied it all together. But the current diplomatic moment in New York City suggests—much like George W. Bush before him—Obama sees the proliferation of WMDs as the great overarching threat to America, and the most compelling basis for the use of military force.

The idea is laid out in the Obama Administration’s last official national-security strategy: “There is no greater threat to the American people than weapons of mass destruction,” the document explained.

That philosophy explains why Obama, after months of refusing to intervene in Syria, was on the brink of a military strike after Bashar Assad mounted a large-scale chemical-weapons attack this summer. Obama insisted that the U.S. simply couldn’t turn a blind eye to the use of WMDs anywhere. “A failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction,” Obama explained in his Sept. 10 address to the nation.

Obama has been even more emphatic when it comes to nuclear weapons. “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said in April 2010.

That helps to explain Obama’s intense concern about Iran’s nuclear program, and his threat to use military force to stop it. Obama has warned not only about the dangers of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s anti-American (and anti-Israel) regime, but also of the risk that an Iranian bomb will touch off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead to dangerous proliferation of atomic weapons. “A nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing,” Obama told ABC earlier this month. The U.S. has many strong disagreements with Iran—from its support for Hizballah to its refusal to recognize Israel—but it is the nuclear issue that has led Obama to impose tight sanctions and to rattle the military saber.

Concerns about nuclear weapons have driven Obama’s policies elsewhere. Secret documents recently leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the obsession America’s intelligence agencies have with Pakistan. They spend billions of dollars per year trying to learn details about Pakistan’s WMD arsenal, thought to include dozens of nuclear warheads but also chemical and biological weapons. Given the proximity of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists to these weapons, the Washington Post reported on Sept. 2: “No other nation draws as much scrutiny” as Pakistan. Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia—which has faltered of late—was initially driven by a push to reduce American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, a key step toward the goal of a nuclear-free world that Obama announced in his first speech abroad as President, in Prague, and which remains an important priority to him.

Meanwhile Obama has shown less interest in troubled countries that don’t pose a WMD threat. He happily withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq and is drawing down from Afghanistan, two nations with no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

In 2002, during the run-up to the Iraq war, the threat of weapons of mass destruction was a core theme of Bush’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly: “Our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale,” Bush said that September. More than a decade later, a very different President finds himself driven by much the same thinking as he heads to the U.N. this week.

39 comments
Lexx
Lexx

Oh you have found a "unifying theme" have you? Is it weakness or incompetence? i wasn't sure.

Oooooh, maybe both; keep me posted.

j.villain1
j.villain1

>" But it’s clear that one priority drives him above all others: weapons of mass destruction."

Uh no. What drives him is Israel  and their their endless demands that the US get into another war to kill Muslims.

DwightJones
DwightJones

Obama cashed out tot the Pentagon. He could have been the Black Lincoln.

Instead he's a militarist Gremlin, grew out of the job, now prefers model airplanes.

jmac
jmac

Please, if Bush had been concerned about nuclear weapons he wouldn't have invaded the weakest kid on the block.  They country that was weaker than when his father went in and had no WMD's.  The country he joked about not finding WMD's.

Don't even put the man's name in the same paragraph with Obama.  It's offensive.  


paulejb
paulejb

Barack Hussein Obama's foreign policy resembles that of Vidkun Quisling.

paulejb
paulejb

When did craven appeasement become a "unifying theme?"

AmericanSheep
AmericanSheep

If you treat other countries like a dog,you know ,a dog bites those who is up to some trick.

meddevguy
meddevguy

"Unifying" -- phenomenal spin by one of the public relations arms of the Democrat party, Time.

And maybe I'm missing something, but wasn't there a President in our past who was excoriated by our present President, then candidate in 2008. Every one of his campaign opposition had voted for the war, on the basis of WMD, and Candidate Obama claimed he didn't -- but forgot to mention while his opponents were serving for decades at a federal level, he was a back-bencher in an obscure position in a state senate. Voting for the WMD-inspired war was way above his pay grade!

So Time's take is that all of the utter disaster that is the current US foreign policy is because of a passionate, caring, redistribution pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Even though his current adventure is the direct cause of both Russia's and Iran's leaders keeping us talking until they make the big announcement of nuclear success.

Frankly, I'm hoping for a solidly Republican 2014 and 2016 so Time can get back to why the First Amendment protects them -- to unfairly criticize the federal government. That's right -- I want Time, the NYT, et. al. to viciously and continually attack the Administration. The President will tell us all the rhetoric that he wants us to hear -- it is up to the "Press" to dig deep and cruelly to tell us what he DOESN'T want us to know. With the current fanatical allegiance to the President and his party, there is really no reason for any protections. And voters have to get their information from comedians.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

I'm a significant fan and supporter of Obama and yet EVEN I find this article fawning. Obama has dealt with each foreign policy situation that has arisen as it best makes sense to him. To suddenly declare that this is part of an overarching theme is simply after-the fact rationalizing. 

The phrase Eleven Dimensional Chess comes to mind, but I was never that true a believer.


drudown
drudown

Perhaps President Obama's Foreign Policy has been shaped by two key realities that the GOP seemingly refuses to acknowledge. First and foremost, that is simply unfounded to unilaterally pursue military action when other strategic partners (e.g., Russia) can facilitate a Diplomatic resolution, i.e., the proposed remedy obviates the very need for force, particularly if there is no ostensible prejudice to Western Civilization and, indeed, the larger World Community for charting a new course of dealing with Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. 

Lessons of History have already been written. Just as it is the duty of our elected officials to dispassionately advance the People's strategic, fiscal, military and economic interests, so too, do our elected officials have a fiduciary duty to seek diplomatic means to avoid fiscally imprudent military "objectives" that simply exacerbate the purported "reasons" for terrorism. The fact much of the "terrorist movement" is a pretext to destabilize regions to create the mere illusion of a much greater systemic "danger" in order to "divert" Western Civilization's attention from the actual risks to mutual prosperity (see, e.g., Climate Change; failure to reorganize EU/Russia/United States' debt; diminished availability of potable water/food/fish stocks; fewer new infrastructure projects to fuel job creation in respective sovereigns, thereby driving global consumption)...enough is enough.

Iraq unequivocally DISPROVED the abstract notion that there is some "greater threat" or "heightened risk" if the US bypasses precedent under the alleged auspices of "protecting our interests". To the contrary, the last decade Iraq proves that military "solutions" exacerbate the very social inequalities and impoverished conditions in countries the US attempts to "assist" in ways that cannot really be solutions. One does not even need to reach the merits of whether or not previous UN presentations prior to unilaterally invading Iraq were, in fact, unduly influenced by sovereigns (e.g., Israel) that may prefer military intervention to ameliorate threats. But enough is enough. Whatever purported "risk" that Iran is not "serious" or "sincere" is not, in itself, persuasive to disregard more humane, cost-effective routes of Diplomacy when such military means are always available. 

At some level, with regards to the past policy of "arming and training" rival factions within Arab/Persian sovereigns must be juxtaposed against the Chinese proverb of "one must know when to stop" reasoning. Stated differently, not one of President Obama's (or Putin's, for that matter) GOP critic or pundit has even incorporated- much less referenced or even acknowledged- any basic, cost/benefit considerations. Tell me, at what point does the World Community engage the Islamic World through a new paradigm? 

After invasions and widespread loss of infrastructure, jobs and human life...Arab/Persian people aren't amenable to the Diplomatic overtures presently on the table. 

Similar to Alexander the Great, Western Civilization must always have an ear open for the other side.

The collective military might of the EU/Russia/US to enforce any "grand compromise" involving Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, et al., is no less able. 

"Cheat me in price, but not the kind of goods." - Spanish Proverb

AlanHall
AlanHall

@meddevguy Odd. I found your comment neither humorous nor informative. It did have the paranoid overtones of a frothing at the mouth right-winger, though. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown Very articulate professor a little long winded for a post to say the least. Your bleeding heart liberalism is apparent . And your points are well taken, but they are not feasible nor attainable with this moron in the Oval office and with the way we do business in the U>S>. $$$ and special interest?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@AlanHall @meddevguy And you must be a liberal or live in Hawaii , because no one with good taste would be caught dead in that shirt. Hows that for Humorous and informative?

drudown
drudown

@Openminded1 @drudown

Anytime someone's substantive rebuttal begins with "long winded" is just a veiled attempt to silence opposition. 

As for your "bleeding heart liberalism", you need to spare me the shopworn BS and start proffering specifics. If you are arguing that being averse to fiscally imprudent Arab occupations (see, e.g., Iraq costs over $4 trillion) should be replicated in Syria because (the argument goes) "not showing force may be perceived as a lack of strength", I again invite you to incorporate a cost/benefit analysis into your criticism. That is, explain in no uncertain terms WHY the diplomatic approach President Obama on THIS ISSUE is not the more fiscally prudent, best strategy for the People of the United States? Your feeble attempts to "recast" my straightforward policy analysis as some "ivory tower" professors-spaek is likewise inapt. I am a high-bracket earner and simply see no return whatsoever on the "investment" in Iraq that YOUR party LIED about prior to the  purportedly "necessary" invasion. For what? To "find and destroy" imaginary WMDs? To enforce a Police Power over a foreign sovereign? Your party just pays lip service to a "strict construction" of the Constitution as it pushes our government of Limited Powers in directions that solely benefit GOp campaign contributors. 

So here is my "essay assignment" for you (or any other proxy of yours or your party):

1) Please explain to the People how the GOP can reconcile a "strict construction" of the Constitution while it concurrently refuses to follow the LAW and RAISE REVENUE (via Article I, Section 8) for the People's general WELFARE, e.g., by even intimating that the government will "default" or "shut down" because of the GOP's admitted REFUSAL to RAISE REVENUE as the aforementioned, express language of the Constitution requires?

2) Identify the pertinent case law or binding legal precedent that gives the GOP members of Congress any self-perceived authority to refuse to faithfully execute the Supreme Law of the Land- specifically, the refusal to implement the Affordable Care Act after passing through three separate branches of government?

Your failure to respond to the merits shall be deemed an admission of veracity in the Court of Public Opinion.

"Judges must beware of hard constructions and strained inferences, for there is no worse torture than the torture of laws." - Francis Bacon

Openminded1
Openminded1

@anon76 @Openminded1 Then you have no sense of humor, or maybe it is because you have the same taste in clothes. Either way it is apparent you are another bleeding heart liberal, who has to vote along party lines. Your room mate Paul and you should become advocates for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 Grow up you must be kidding pansy, I have been around 63 years a veteran of vietnam and 30 years as a cop in a major city, while most likely you avoided military service. This is not the debate team ass wipe this is opinion time. Insults are just fine and can be a very humorous for life is short not everyone is a bore like you. I do not know how old you are or if you have kids but if you do I feel sorry for them.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 Well W in office was no great thing either. But you libs put in a muslim racist not just once but twice and he will go down in history  as one of the worst Presidents. he fooled all you dummys with his charm , you wimps are so naive. Surely one of you will see the light some day and not just vote along part lines. And you moron could never stay up with the likes of Coulter, she would like me eat you alive.

drudown
drudown

@Openminded1 @drudown 

Listen, dollface.

I get it, you have no substantive policy rebuttal. But my cards are on the table. I suggest (in no particular order) you acknowledge that insults do not qualify as a substantive rebuttal and grow up.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 I have a message for you. You will run out of steam and are no match for me, never found a liberal yet who was man enough to take to much heat.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 You are just like most liberals ass hole a coward hiding behind a computer. quoting Francis Bacon and Emerson and i am sure many other quotes you will look up. What a pansy you must a real ladies man too.

drudown
drudown

@Openminded1 @drudown 

Ps. enough with the personal narratives. That is what makes the internet the real Media. Only the message matters, not the messenger. Get with times.

drudown
drudown

@Openminded1 @drudown

No you are just a cowardly partisan hack. You want to impugn credibility by dispensing the same BS labeling that got W in office. Problem is, nobody cares anymore. People- that vote, I hasten to add- would rather have a State that provides historical services rather than the GOP model of "cut taxes for the rich and cut historic services- so, keep up the negative banter. It just makes your party look as judgmental and outdated as it is. 

As for actually matching wits? Surely one of you knows Ann Coulter. Why don't you send her or Hannity my way so I can give serve them their lunch.


Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 You are one long winded liberal. You must like hearing yourself talk also. I am sure it bores the hell out of any loved one you may have unless he or she is deaf. your friends must be limited to people in a coma . number one professor of bs, I no longer answer to wanna be professors. I have reached the point in life called retirement  and answer to no one. You will die a very lonely man, most likely talking to yourself.  and i can careless  about the veracity in the court of any kind let alone public opinion. As you sit lonely where ever you maybe , I live the good life 32 floors up overlooking the ocean on my balcony with fine wine, a wife of 35 years and never have to work again. With no help needed by Obama or morons like you. Life his to short for your bleeding heart silly assignments. I will leave that to one of your students.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@drudown @Openminded1 @shepherdwong @Sherm I like being Ironic and have a sense of humor  You are a phony with all your PC  rhetoric and your bs efforts and attempts at being intellectual . You come off what you really are a bore and a bleeding heart liberal .

drudown
drudown

@Openminded1 @shepherdwong @Sherm 

Gee, OpenMinded, maybe we send you to Russia as our "special envoy" and see how well your approach works? It is no coincidence your avatar aptly summarizes the GOP approach to deceitful labeling, say, a Clean Skies Act that proximately results in dirtier skies. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@shepherdwong @Sherm Bs james that was not Obama, Kerry maybe via mistake but without a doubt Obama had nothing to do with that, Putin that ass hole had more input that is what the shame is.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@Sherm "It also doesn't help that our president is a horrible negotiator."

The Administration just got Bashar al-Assad to agree to abandon chemical weapons it previous claimed it didn't have (with Russian assistance) and Iran to come to the negotiating table over a nuclear weapons program they say doesn't exist.

OTOH, we really enjoyed the way George W. Bush negotiated his way to nearly 5,000 dead American soldiers over WMD that had been destroyed a decade earlier.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/10329465/Barack-Obama-poised-to-meet-Irans-president-Hassan-Rouhani-over-lunch-at-United-Nations.html