“If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
—Barack Obama, January 2009
Since taking office in 2009, the Obama Administration continually snubs allies of the United States and sooths adversaries to the detriment of American interests abroad. The “Obama Doctrine” has proven to be: actively engage and reward hostile regimes in the hope they will change their ways, while spurning proven allies during times of need. This approach breaks with history, puts freedom on the retreat abroad, emboldens enemies and ignores the U.S. role as an exceptional leader among nations.
Iran: The prospect of a theocratic, nuclear-armed Iran is among the gravest threats facing the U.S. and our allies and an existential threat to Israel. As recently as April 14, 2010, Iran announced that it had further defied the U.N. by enriching uranium from 3.5 to 20 percent purity en route to its desired weapons-grade enrichment level. Additionally, on June 27, 2010, CIA Director Panetta confirmed Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear weapons. Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world, supporting Hamas and Hezbollah among other groups. A diplomat from the United Arab Emirates, Iran’s neighbor and trade partner, recently admitted that the short-term costs of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be outweighed by the long-term security benefits to the region.
A chronic violator of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran escaped condemnation at the recent NPT Conference Review as the U.S. was party to a consensus report that made no mention of Iran’s non-compliance with nuclear safeguards and IAEA inspection requirements. The Obama Administration showed no leadership among the international community as it appeared willing to live with an Iranian regime with nuclear weapons.
The Obama Administration is now touting the potential impact of recent sanctions passed by the UN Security Council and the U.S. Congress, claiming a diplomatic victory and impending economic suffering for the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the Iran Sanctions Act includes a number of conditions in which the President can waive sanctions, and UNSCR 1929 notably allows Russia to circumvent the intended effects by providing Iran with the S-300 strategic air defense system. The executive burden now rests on the Administration to aggressively enforce the sanctions that Congress passed.
Russia: Under the leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia has invaded its neighbor Georgia, meddled in the internal politics of Ukraine and Kyrgystan, floated a “new security architecture” to undermine NATO, and pursued economic integration with Belarus and Kazakhstan. At home, Russia has regressed on human rights and democracy. International observers reported that the 2008 election for president was neither fair nor free, and failed to meet many international standards for democratic elections. There have also been high profile murders of human rights activists and journalists, according to the State Department’s March 2010 report.
Despite Russian antagonism and repression, the administration is determined to appease Russia to “reset” relations. Most notably, in 2009, the administration abandoned plans for a missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic—former Soviet Union satellite states—after Russia expressed unease with the plan. The Obama administration calculated that this concession would garner Russian support for UN sanctions on Iran, the futility of which is discussed above. This decision left U.S. allies more vulnerable to the threat of ballistic missile attack and was a strategic victory for the Kremlin, which is determined to have a sphere of privileged interest in that region.
Most recently, the administration agreed to a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, the balance of which strategically limits the United States significantly more than Russia. Lubos Dobrovsky, former Czech defense minister spoke for many observers when he said, “This treaty is a diplomatic and military victory for Moscow, and I am not happy that this American defeat is being showcased in Prague.” Yet the Obama Administration continues down the road of Russian appeasement. Following a recent bilateral meeting, President Obama expressed support for Russian accession into the WTO while making no mention of its human rights abuses or authoritarianism. As further evidence of Administration softness, the Justice Department struck a deal with the 12 recently arrested Russian spies, allowing them to escape jail time and return to Russia.
Syria: Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism and has been since 1979. According to the State Department, Syria’s dictatorship supports terrorist groups and allows some of these organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to maintain headquarters in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Syria also has close ties to Iran. According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), Syria plays a “spoiler” role in the Middle East peace process by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. In April 2010, Syria transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah inside Lebanon, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. These missiles have the range to strike Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In February 2010, President Obama nominated the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005. The State Department also recently dispatched its number three diplomat, William Burns, to Damascus to hold consultations with President Assad. The administration remains stubbornly committed to its “engagement” strategy, although many analysts conclude that “there have been few substantive changes in Syrian government policy over the last year,” according to the CRS. To the contrary, Iran recently provided Syria with a sophisticated radar system that could be used to the benefit of Hezbollah. Despite continued Syrian support of terrorism and undermining the Middle East peace process, President Obama has made “engaging” Syria a pillar of his foreign policy in the region, offering legitimacy and respect while demanding nothing in return.
Venezuela: Venezuela, led by Hugo Chavez, is the most vehemently anti-American country in Latin America. Under Chavez, Venezuela has systematically moved toward socialism, abused human rights, increased military arms purchases, suppressed the media and tightened relations with Iran and Cuba. According to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, "Chávez and his allies are likely to oppose nearly every U.S. policy initiative in the region, including the expansion of free trade, counter drug and counterterrorism cooperation, military training, and security initiatives, and even U.S. assistance programs."
True to his campaign promise, President Obama has warmly engaged the authoritarian Chavez. At the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, the president “sought out and shook hands” with Chavez. At the summit, Obama accepted a book from Chavez entitled, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent." Speaking to Chavez and other gathered autocrats such as Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, President Obama declared, "We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations." The U.S. president’s remark drew wild applause from Latin American despots. Since that statement Venezuela’s stance on democracy, human rights, and anti-terrorism cooperation has unsurprisingly not improved.
On June 29, 2010, Venezuela feared no reprisal as the country nationalized 11 oil rigs owned by a U.S. company. President Obama has been silent on the issue while a State Department spokesman merely recommended that Venezuela fairly compensate the company for such actions. Chavez will continue his socialist revolution and influence to neighboring countries if the Obama Administration continues to ignore affronts to the legitimate business interests of U.S. companies operating in Venezuela.
Israel: Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East, is the U.S.’ most cherished ally in the region. Israel and the U.S. have shared an extraordinary bond since the establishment of the country in 1948. Since President Truman provided Israel with international legitimacy by recognizing it minutes after its establishment, the U.S. has stood by Israel. The two countries have developed a partnership based on shared values and interests, including Middle East peace through democratic reform, fighting terrorism, and containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly strained the partnership by berating Israel publicly to no clear effect. During a visit to the country, Vice President Biden openly denounced the Israeli government for building housing developments in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu has noted that, “Jerusalem is not a settlement; It’s our capital.” In late March during a White House visit, President Obama dressed down Prime Minister Netanyahu over the construction issue and left him for dinner, but informed Netanyahu that, “I’m still around. Let me know if there is anything new.” The Israeli newspaper Haaretz concluded that, “The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came.” U.S.—Israeli relations appeared to be at the lowest point in decades.
On May 28, 2010, the UN released its conference review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which called on Israel to become party to the treaty and pursue nuclear disarmament. The U.S. endorsement of this UN recommendation is both surprising and disappointing as the document makes no mentions of Iran’s pursuance of nuclear weapons—yet another example of the Administration needling friends and giving enemies a pass.
Following the May 2010 flotilla raid enforcing its naval blockade of Gaza, Israel found little support from the Obama Administration amid widespread, unfounded international condemnation. Seeking to curry Turkish favor for UN sanctions on Iran, the administration was careful to only condemn the loss of life during the incident and quickly focused the narrative around the humanitarian situation in Gaza rather than Israel’s right to defend against Hamas’ weapons smuggling at sea.
United Kingdom: The Obama Administration has systematically worked to weaken the famous “Special Relationship” with Great Britain—a State Department official even denied such a thing existed last year. Of course, the U.K. has long boasted exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural and historic relations with the U.S., and this relationship has been cultivated by every president since Franklin Roosevelt. The U.K. has more troops stationed in Afghanistan than any other ally.
Despite our longstanding friendship, the White House refused five Oval Office meetings with Prime Minister Gordon Brown before he was finally granted an audience with the president. More troublingly, the State Department declared support for Argentina’s calls for negotiations over the Falkland Islands. With the exception of Argentina and some of its regional allies, there is no argument that these islands are possessions of the U.K. The Falklands have been British since 1833—of the roughly 3,000 inhabitants nearly all are British by birth or descent. The U.K. lost hundreds of servicemen retaking the Falklands (with the support of the U.S) after Argentina invaded the islands in 1982. The State Department’s ad hoc policy reversal on the Falklands’ status is a matter of serious concern in London and threatens U.K. support for future Anglo-American cooperation.
In a worldview that gives more relevance to the G-20 and transnational institutions, President Obama has little use for a “Special Relationship” with our linguistic and cultural brethren in the UK.
Colombia: Colombia has proven to be a model of democratic reform and security gains in Latin America. It is the oldest democracy in South America and a strong security partner of the U.S. located in a hostile neighborhood, as proven by recent developments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Colombia is especially critical to U.S. counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts.
Predictably, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reacted to U.S.—Colombian partnership by threatening to halt all business transactions with Colombia, valued at over $7 billion annually. However, the Obama Administration is also turning its back on trade with Colombia. In 2006, Colombia and the U.S. signed a trade promotion agreement which would reduce tariffs and other trade barriers, but the deal still awaits Congressional approval. The deal would have significant economic benefits for the U.S. and Colombia, but the Obama Administration and Democrat leadership in Congress refuse to allow a vote on the trade aggreement. The trade agreement would deepen our economic ties with Colombia, promoting peace, democracy, and freedom in Latin America. It would provide a substantive and symbolic bulwark against a rising tide of radicalism on the continent. Wavering countries in the hemisphere will rightly judge the reliability of the U.S. as a partner based on its treatment of Colombia under the signed trade deal.
South Korea: South Korea is a democratic ally situated precariously near two nuclear-armed communist countries—North Korea and China. A critical security partner in a volatile region, South Korea recently bore the brunt of North Korean belligerence with the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors. While the initial U.S. response was to announce joint naval exercises with South Korea, schedule delays and uncertainty regarding the participation of an American aircraft carrier have called into question the Obama Administration’s strategic resolve. Embarrassingly, the result of this diplomatic tip-toeing around China was a UN resolution against the torpedo attack that failed to explicitly condemn North Korea for the act. Seoul has worked closely with the U.S. in countering North Korea's nuclear program and recently sent civilian and military personnel to support the coalition mission in Afghanistan for the first time since 2007.
South Korea is an important economic partner and strategic ally, and the U.S. stands to benefit economically from deeper ties with the country. Much like Colombia though, South Korea is eager for Congress to approve a free trade deal signed with the U.S. in 2007. Passing the deal would reward South Korea's recent support for U.S. foreign policy priorities and demonstrate continued U.S. engagement and leadership in North East Asia. Though Obama recently signaled support for Congress to approve the FTA, Hill Democrats are likely to ignore the benefits of trade as they attempt to distance themselves from President Obama in the upcoming campaign season. Analysts do not expect passage before November’s elections, and the economic benefits to both sides will be further delayed.
Czech Republic and Poland: The Czech Republic and Poland are staunch U.S. allies who have admirably progressed from Soviet satellite states into vibrant democracies and free market economies since the fall of the Soviet Union. Both countries (also NATO members) have contributed troops to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration, however, has done these countries no favors since taking office. In 2009, the administration scrapped planned missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in an effort to coddle a menacing Russia that has been bullying its neighbors. A missile shield located in Eastern Europe would be a strong deterrent to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. The Czech Republic and Poland are just outside Iran’s current ballistic missile range. Other allies, such as Israel, Turkey, and Greece, are already within range of Iranian missiles. It appears that the administration is willing to jeopardize U.S. security interests in exchange for hitting the “reset” button on relations with Russia. As a spokeswoman for the Polish Ministry of Defense summed up, "This is catastrophic for Poland."
Despite Secretary Clinton’s decision to kick the can down the road by only promising to deploy SM-3 missiles to Poland by 2018, the current security dynamic between the U.S. and Eastern Europe is such that the Polish foreign minister recently attended a summit with German, French, and Russian counterparts. The meeting was followed with an endorsement of a joint EU-Russia Political and Security Committee. In the absence of strong U.S. commitment to the security of allies like Poland and Czech Republic, leaders in Warsaw and Prague are seeking alliances that could have far-reaching implications on the balance of power in that region.