State of the Union: Dangerous Foreign Policy
By Matt Southworth on 01/25/2012 @ 12:50 AM
President Obama finished his third State of the Union Address the same way he began it—by touting what the administration considers foreign policy successes. “For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq” President Obama began, concluding his address by stating, “Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.”
This kind of rhetoric is incredibly unfortunate. The logic guiding these thoughts says that force has worked to end wars when in reality it has failed to deliver long term peace and stability. We can clearly see this playing out in Iraq today—not to mention, as I wrote in December, the U.S. war in Iraq may have concluded, but the long term damage is far from done running its course.
President Obama believes this “position of strength” allows the U.S. to “begin to wind down the war in Afghanistan.” Yet anyone paying close attention can see that things are rapidly falling apart. After a failed effort at the most recent Bonn Conference to secure long term funding from NATO allies for operations in Afghanistan, the White House's Afghanistan policy is on its last leg. Not to mention the steadily deteriorating relationship with a fragile political and military class in Pakistan. It is often said (but has been rarely true) that "this year is the pivotal year for Afghanistan policy." However, I can say confidently that in 2012, this turn of phrase could not be truer.
As the Obama administration navigates negotiations between Afghan President Karzai and the Taliban-led insurgency, it should tread carefully. If the U.S. attempts to negotiate a political settlement predicated on a long-term U.S. military presence, the agreement—and quite possibly the Afghan state—will fail. If the U.S. negotiates a political settlement predicated on ending the conflict—which means giving priority to Afghan politics, securing a regional settlement with actors like Pakistan and Iran and ending military operations—then Washington should prepare itself for a decades-long process.
The latter scenario is the only hope for long term peace and stability; there simply is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, as the U.S. attempts to negotiate the end of one war, it seems hopelessly and blindly dedicated to starting another. After stating the U.S. would not tolerate “violence and intimidation” against citizens of the world, President Obama made an exception for Iran. The president announced: “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” Yet there is a lot of doubt—particularly surrounding whether or not Iran is even interested in obtaining a nuclear weapon. Moreover, this kind of inflammatory rhetoric is not likely to encourage cooperation or open bilateral diplomatic channels between the U.S. and Iran. It seems more likely that this kind of threat will drive Iran away from these better policy options.
Ultimately, President Obama believes that “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs.” If this is true, President Obama should do a better job to treat such power responsibly. The U.S. does have great responsibility to contribute to the stability of the world—not undermine it by continuing a war for another decade in Afghanistan and starting a new war against Iran. It is long past time to evolve beyond this short-sighted mentality.