The Magazine

The Damage Done

Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By LEE SMITH
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The administration abandoned Iraq after the United States invested thousands of American lives and billions of dollars. Without a status of forces agreement, the White House effectively handed influence on the government in Baghdad over to Iran, which has used it as a transport hub to resupply its forces fighting for Assad in Syria. The Syrian dictator, an Iranian ally, still rules, two years after Obama demanded he step down. Meanwhile, American allies were toppled in Tunisia and Egypt. Whether Obama prefers stability or democracy is still unclear, because two years on, after two violent changes of government in Cairo, he still has no coherent policy for the largest Arab state. The White House wanted to make its footprint smaller in the Middle East, which has so far amounted to making America and its allies more vulnerable. A year after the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, including the U.S.  ambassador to Libya, no one has been brought to justice.

For all the talk of the pivot to Asia, American allies like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have to wonder if that’s just a slogan. When they face China and North Korea, are they reassured by U.S. security commitments that may be empty? In Europe, Obama sold out the Czechs and the Poles in 2009 by canceling a missile defense system so as not to anger the Russians. If he was already willing to sell out some smaller allies then, how much more of a supplicant to Moscow will he be now that Putin has helped him save face over Syria?

Obama said in his speech last week that he agrees with those who wonder why the United States has to be the world’s policeman. But “policeman” was always a caricature of America’s actual role in the world. Since the Cold War, our power and influence have been premised on a very simple strategy of ensuring the freedom of trade and open markets that keep the American economy humming from coast to coast, and ensuring peace in Europe, balance in Asia, hegemony in the Persian Gulf, and dominance of our own hemisphere. In other words, the United States does not police the world for the benefit of others; rather, we are a superpower with allies around the world because our chief interest, and a vital interest of our allies, too, is a strong America.

By making us smaller around the world, Obama risks making us smaller at home, too. He wants to focus only on domestic politics, but that is a luxury afforded by an ability to project power abroad in order to keep the peace. Obama has made America less powerful and less respected in the world, and less confident abroad and at home. We now face three, long years of damage control before the next president can begin the unenviable task of repair and restoration.

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