The Obama administration’s decision to evacuate so many diplomats on such short notice — however justified by the seriousness of the threat — has upset some of its foreign partners, who say the gesture contributes to a sense of panic and perceived weakness that plays into the hands of the United States’ enemies, and impedes their efforts to engage with people in their countries. […]The diplomatic shutdown may have been especially jarring, analysts say, because the administration has portrayed Al Qaeda as a waning force in the past year.
Hmm: the New York Times says that key allies believe that the Obama administration is panicky and weak? These are not the floral tributes to the wisdom of our leaders that we are accustomed to reading in the august pages of the Times. Could something be going wrong?Neither the NYT nor we know exactly what intelligence the administration has, so we hesitate to join the merry fest of president-bashing quite so readily. But for some time now, we’ve been noting that one of our predictions has come true: the MSM and the foreign policy establishment generally have become much more critical of President Obama since his reelection. There are a lot of things that only Republicans used to say about his foreign policy skills that more and more Democrats are now saying.Keeping all that in mind, it is sadly true that the closing of so many US facilities in the Middle East will be hailed as a great victory by Al Qaeda and its allies, and this will be used as a recruiting tool all through the region. At the moment it’s difficult not to conclude that President Obama’s Middle East policy and his Russia policy both seem to have reached a point of comprehensive failure, and it is not clear what his next moves will be.These are not small problems in the otherwise smooth unfolding of a grand presidential design. The Middle East and Russia were at the core of the President’s agenda. Withdrawing from Iraq and building ties to moderate and presumably democratic Islamists would cool the fires of passion and anti-Americanism firing up terrorism around the region. Aggressive strikes at the core Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan would cripple the organization, and with the general downturn in anti-American radicalism ushered in by America’s good relations with moderate Islamism, our terrorism problem would shrink. This was the mission President Obama claimed to have accomplished, and his celebrations of victory now look as premature as his predecessor’s appearance under the infamous banner.While the President is continuing to talk about how the “core” of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been hard hit, and he’s right, he presumably understands that this is not the point. The affiliates and partners of Al Qaeda have morphed into a new and very serious danger, and the last few weeks have seen a string of major victories for them: the collapse of the “moderate” alternative in Egypt, the jail breaks across the region, and now what appears to be the panicky closure of US facilities at the mere threat of an attack.There are other problems. The steady drift of the Turkish Islamists toward authoritarianism and tinfoil-hat conspiracy thinking undercuts the usefulness and plausibility of the moderately Islamist camp in the best established Muslim democracy in the region. The shakiness in Tunisia points to a deepening rift between Islamists and secularists in the birthplace of the phenomenon formerly known as the Arab Spring. The Saudi offer of a large arms purchase from Russia in exchange for Russian help in Syria is the most pointed possible declaration that the Saudis consider President Obama hopelessly weak and irresolute.Meanwhile, the ‘reset’ with Russia was, President Obama seems to have hoped and believed, the key to two of his most important goals. On the one hand, building a new, realpolitik relationship with President Putin would bring Russian support for US efforts to negotiate an acceptable end to the Iranian nuclear standoff. Real pressure from Russia would be the final capstone of a strategy of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure that would bring Tehran to the bargaining table and eliminate the specter of yet another major war in the Middle East. At the same time, President Obama sincerely and deeply wants to make progress toward nuclear disarmament. He believes that the vast, leftover arsenals from the Cold War continue to threaten the existence of humanity, and sees the progression of nuclear proliferation as undercutting any hope for a world order based on law, disarmament and international cooperation. Russia is no longer a great power in many respects, but on nuclear matters, its help is essential. President Obama has pursued a relationship with President Putin out of a dogged desire to make humanity safe from nuclear mass death, and the purpose of the Moscow summit he has now had to cancel was planned to advance this objective.So: the Middle East is in chaos and Al-Qaeda and associated movements have morphed into a new kind of threat. The reset is in ruins and an empowered Iran is feeling support from Russia even as its client in Syria pushes ahead. Nuclear disarmament and progress on non-proliferation are if anything farther away than they were when President Obama took the oath of office as the re-incarnation of Abraham Lincoln back in 2009. That is the starting point for American strategy today, and it is not a happy place.It is important for the President and his advisers, to say nothing of the chattering classes and the nation’s foreign policy establishment, to keep our cool at times like this. It is not the end of the world or anything like it. Nothing irretrievable has been lost, and the strategic underpinnings of America’s position remain sound, but it’s at least temporarily become impossible for just about anyone not on the President’s payroll to say that things are going well in the world of American foreign policy right now.But not all the news is bad. News that the US and Philippines will soon hold talks on a bigger American troop presence to counter China in the South China Sea show that the pivot to Asia still has some energy. Atlantic and Pacific trade talks also seem to be moving along. The foreign policy of the United States is a large and very complicated thing; there’s some danger that as the left turns on President Obama and the MSM comes to grips with the administration’s shortcomings, there will be a bit of over-correction going on.Since the founding of the Republic there has never been a single day on which everything about American foreign policy was right, or on which everything about American foreign policy was wrong. Back when the MSM was offering hosannas and moist, misty-eyed tributes to President Obama at every opportunity, comparing The One to Lincoln and FDR right and left, the President was getting some important things wrong. And now, as many of his former acolytes turn against him with disillusion and disdain, much of what his administration is doing remains sound.It’s also important to remember that the goddess Fortuna is as fickle, ambitious and ruthless as they come. Compared to fortune, Paris Hilton looks like Martha Washington. Unexpected events can turn the biggest success in the world into a disaster and vice versa. A President whose policies seem to be in total disarray one week can be on top of the world a month later.But there’s no doubt the President is in for a time of testing, and there’s no doubt that many of his signature foreign policy initiatives are in disarray. Regardless of party and ideology, we should all be wishing him well at this point. He is the only president we’ve got, and both America and the world need a steady hand in the Oval Office.[Image of President Obama at Cairo University in 2009 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]