Someone needs to save the Obama Administration from itself when it comes to foreign policy.
Since taking office in 2008, Obama has had very few foreign policy successes to brag about, beyond the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Promises have not been kept, red lines have been drawn and erased, and it appears that his Administration is floundering in its efforts to address both the human rights disaster in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama’s foreign policy dithering hit an all-time low last week with the breakdown and failure of the Geneva II talks that were aimed at making progress in bringing peace to Syria. The Obama Administration is arguing that the deal signed in 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is not dead, and that last week’s peace talks were, at least in part, fruitful. The reality, however, is that no deal was struck between rebel factions and the Syrian government, and more, that the Syrian government is two months behind in its promised chemical weapons destruction. It is clear that the Assad regime is not taking U.S. efforts to broker peace seriously, evidenced primarily by the fact that it has only turned over approximately 5 per cent of its chemical weapons stockpile.
The interim Iranian nuclear deal the Obama Administration heralded as a great diplomatic success also seems to be in doubt. Provisions of the deal were set to take effect on January 20, but rather than demonstrating a sincere willingness to abandon nuclear arms technology and/or development, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif publicly stated that Iran had not agreed to dismantle any equipment. This version of reality is in sharp contrast to the U.S. version, and now questions are being asked as to whether there was a real nuclear deal at all, or whether the Obama Administration had been played by the Iranians.
The last year has not been a good one for the U.S. on the world diplomatic stage. Assad in Syria, Putin in Russia and Rouhaniin Iran have all made Obama look weak or completely lost at one time or another. A lack of grand strategy, combined with a decline in U.S. power internationally and an unwillingness to engage in foreign entanglements, have led to a situation where foreign powers are beginning to test the status of American domination.
The fall of the Soviet Union saw the emergence of U.S. hegemony on the world stage. No other country was singlehandedly able to counter its. power in political, economic or military terms, and so the U.S. was known to have enough power to deter competitors and work to solve crises as a benevolent hegemon. Recent years, however, have seen a decline of American hegemony and what has become apparent is that foreign powers, most notably China and Russia, have been kicking the proverbial tires as they test just how powerful the U.S. still is, and how willing it is to deter emerging powers.
So what happens next?
The U.S. still has the money and power to be classified as a hegemon but the political will no longer seems to exist to behave like one. Other states smell blood in the water and have begun to assert themselves in ways that, previously in the era of American hegemony, they would not. Iran is unlikely to end its nuclear ambitions, regardless of what the U.S. demands; the Syrian civil war has been allowed to continue because of Russia’s meddling; and China’s gradual development of military technology and regional posturing in the Pacific has led many, including Canadians, to contemplate a fundamental shift in political and military strategy to place Asia as the primary focus after years of Atlantic focus.
As time goes forward, the U.S. will continue to experience difficulties as the world tests its declining hegemony, and Obama has done the U.S. no favours by mishandling foreign policy for so long. The world is coming and the U.S. had best begin to plan for it.
Robert Murray is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta and a Senior Fellow of Security and Defence at AIMS.
*This piece appeared in the opinion sector of Troy Media