By Jonathan Power
November 8th 2016.
An interesting question is what would happen to American foreign policy if President Barack Obama were allowed to have another four year term in office?
It would be a less interventionist presidency than what is about to become. This is not to say that I think the way Obama has handled the war in Afghanistan has been successful. Nor do I believe the attack on Libya was a sensible idea. Nor do I think the way he dealt with Russia and Ukraine in the last four years has been anything but counterproductive.
But I do believe the world would be an even messier place if he had not been president. Syria would have been invaded with ground troops. Iraq would have been replicated.
I think confrontation with China over the ownership of the contested islands in the South China and East China seas would have been more serious than it has been.
There would have been no bringing back Cuba in from the cold. (Cuba was the home of the missile crisis of 1962 when the world came terrifyingly near to a nuclear war.)
Most important, there would have been no nuclear deal with Iran. Iran’s research which could have led to the making of a nuclear bomb (not that I think it had any intention of going that far) would have continued.
At some point Israel would have bombed Iran’s reactors leading to outrage in many parts of the Muslim world, especially among Iran’s neighbours. Even Saudi Arabia would have been angry and would have given up its role as a would-be interlocutor between Israel and Palestine.
The US, for its part, would have been implicated since it would be assumed it had given Israel the green light. Russia, de facto part of the team of Western mediators, would have been furious.
All Obama’s military conflict problems except Libya – Syria, ISIS, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq – he inherited from George W. Bush. Indeed, according to Bush’s Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, his administration had a plan that after subduing Iraq and Afghanistan the US would do the same with Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Yemen.
Obama has not gone to war elsewhere.
He has drawn a line under further interventionism. He has always believed that interventionism is a crude instrument. On the other hand Obama has continued the fight against terrorism using drones, targeted assassinations and Special Forces.
Obama believes US military power must be used sparingly and that in many situations, if not most, it will be counterproductive. He refused to consider a plan to push the Russians out of Crimea following its invasion. According to his long interview in Atlantic magazine in April he believes the Middle East is of declining importance.
He does not believe, as his opponents do, that the US must always seem “credible”. That’s why, when he had a last minute change of mind about going into Syria, he was not influenced by that calculation.
His critics suggest that having once drawn a red line he should not have crossed it as it undermined American “credibility”. But that he considers nonsense, not surprisingly when one considers that the combined resources of the US military are more than all the other nations of the world combined.
So if Obama were president for another four years what would happen?
I think, as usually occurs in civil wars, Syria would burn itself out, but with a chastened President Bashar Al-Assad still on top. ISIS would be defeated as the militaries of the US, Russia and other NATO members combine.
The islands disputes with China would remain frozen, just as the China/Taiwan one has long been. Negotiations with North Korea over its growing nuclear armoury would be given new vigour, winning over China to put increasing pressure on its regime. The Israel/Palestine dispute would probably remain impervious to progress.
Obama would become cooler in his dealings with the corrupt government of Ukraine, having been belatedly convinced that his earlier confrontational stance in support of Ukraine’s attempt to break away from the Russian orbit and enter the European Union’s had been mistaken and misplayed. He would also make amends with President Vladimir Putin about his decision to expand Nato up to Russia’s borders, and for planning to deploy missiles that, meant to be a defence against an Iranian attack, could be switched to hit Moscow.
Making it up with Putin would be his number one priority. This would not be easy as so much bad blood has been spilt. But if successive presidents could forge a working relationship with Khrushchev and Brezhnev during the depths of the Cold War Obama surely could reach out to Putin. Ending the trade embargo and making peace over Ukraine would be the way to start.
Now the US has a new president cut from a different tree.
We move from the uncertainly known to the totally unknown.
Copyright: Jonathan Power