No Guiding Light

Since President Obama took office, there have been three incidents that caught the world’s attention. Three nations that we consider very strategically significant in the world had crises that threatened to suddenly change their governments. And in each case, the Obama administration took what I consider to be the wrong approach.

Honduras — Honduras is a democracy that’s pretty much in our back yard. In 2009, President Zelaya pushed for a public referendum that would have allowed him to set himself up as president for life, patterned on how Hugo Chavez did it in Venezuela. He had also been pushing an anti-American agenda, denouncing the US and blaming us for his problems.

He was opposed by the legislature and the Supreme Court, which ordered him removed from office and exiled. The precise legality of the move was questionable — the Honduran Constitution had no such provisions set up — but the principle was democratically sound: in nations like Honduras and the United States, the federal power is divided among three branches — the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Under the system of checks and balances, any two branches can check the power of the third. In the United States, the legislative can remove the executive — but the judicial oversees the process. This is pretty much what happened.

The Obama administration’s reaction was stunning. They stood firm on Zelaya’s side, and rallied international pressure on Honduras to restore Zelaya — which they did, reluctantly.

Iran — Iran’s history of the last 30-odd years needs no recapping, but just as a refresher, let’s hit some of the most recent highlights. They are supporters of terrorism. They are seeking nuclear weapons. They want to be the Mideast’s dominant military power. And they are currently actively fighting and killing US forces (using members of their military out of uniform) in Afghanistan and Iran.

In late 2009, after Iran’s latest rigged elections, a large number of Iranians tried to rebel against their government and overthrow the mullahs who’ve held that nation in an iron grasp for decades. Their “Green Revolution” demanded freedom and democratic reform.

And they were crushed by the mullahs.

The Obama administration’s response to the whole thing? Exceptionally tepid. It made some vague comments in generalized support of “democracy” and “freedom” and “self-determination” and whatnot, but basically downplayed the whole thing. Plus, he’s been on the record for years as favoring reconciling with Iran, apologizing for past wrongdoings and trying to find some magic formula of accomodations and concessions that will end the years of hostility.

— Egypt, as noted, has been a dictatorship for about as long as Iran has. But unlike Iran, Mubarak’s dictatorship has been almost benign. He’s oppressed his people, but he’s been a good ally of the United States (supporting our interests far more often than not), kept the peace in and around his nation, and in general been a very potent stabilizing force in that tumultuous region. On the scale of dictators, he’s been far down the list of “offensive.”

Under the second President Bush, we promoted democratic reforms in Egypt. We didn’t openly confront Mubarak, but we encouraged dissent and reforms and freedoms.

When President Obama came into office, though, he shifted things around a bit. He cut the funding for promoting reform in Egypt in half, and gave the Mubarak regime control over which groups would be allowed to receive it. In essence, he “sold out” the Egyptian democratic movement.

And then, when the Egyptians started demanding reform now, he pussyfooted around and equivocated and mealy-mouthed the whole thing. Then he finally took a decisive side and had his spokesman announce that Mubarak was stepping down, presumably to take the credit. Mubarak responded with a defiant insistence that he was going nowhere, regardless of what any “foreign” figures had to say — a stinging rebuke to Obama. And then he stepped down the next day.

There has to be a unifying theme, an underlying principle, a Grand Unified Theory of foreign policy that ties these together into a rational whole. And try as I might, the only one I can find is one I’ve cynically cited before, but now wonder if my cynicism might be well-grounded.

Obama’s foreign policy seems to revolve around two interrelated principles: “do the opposite of what Bush did” and “punish your friends and reward your enemies.”

In each of the cases cited above, the side that was more pro-American (or, at least, less anti-American) was the side that he backed. Zelaya was shaping up into another anti-American demogague and tyrant in Honduras, and we backed his return. The Iranian regime has been a resolute foe for decades, and we did virtually nothing to encourage their opponents. And in Egypt, the guy who’s had our back for decades in the Middle East (well, certainly more than any other Muslim nation in that region) was thrown to the wolves with barely a second glance — and the democratic opposition was also left dangling, with each side noticing that the other got token support and neither anything of substance.

In each case,Obama came down on the side that I presume Bush would have taken. In Honduras, Bush would have supported the anti-Zelaya movement that removed a nascent dictator. In Iran, “regime change” was a policy of his. And in Egypt, he’d been supporting Democratic reforms for years.

And then there’s the United Kingdom. For nigh on a century, the “special relationship” between our two nations has been one of our greatest assets. And ever since he was elected, it seems like Obama goes out of his way to snub, spurn, and alienate the British.

News flash, President Obama: Bush wasn’t 100% wrong on everything. All but the most partisan hacks would have to concede that he got at least a few things right. But apparently, to Obama, being friendly to the US during the Bush administration translates to being friendly to Bush, and that must be punished. He’s projecting his domestic politics on to the world stage — and that just doesn’t work.

Obama needs to get over himself and find a coherent theme and philosophy for his foreign policy. Because his stumbling around and sheer ineptitude are causing harm that could take decades to repair.

I'll admit to not ever before hearing from or about Niall Ferguson...
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