By Richard A. Epstein
Thomas Friedman, the respected New York Times columnist, tried to do a beleaguered President Barack Obama a favor by publishing an summary of an extended interview between the two men, which was grandly entitled “Obama on the World.” Friedman tried to present the President in a positive light, by calling his weak responses “feisty.” Yet there is no denying that Obama’s rudderless foreign policy has been a disaster. The international order has rapidly deteriorated since Obama entered the Oval Office. The current situation is so perilous that so long as Obama remains President, the phrase “presidential leadership” will continue to be an oxymoron.
The President suffers from two fundamental flaws. The first is that he is unwilling to make decisions. He much prefers to play the role of a disinterested observer who comments on a set of adverse events that he regards himself as powerless to shape, of which Assad’s carnage in Syria is the prime example. The second is that he fundamentally misunderstands the use of force in international affairs. He handicaps himself fatally by imposing unwise limitations on the use of American force, such as his repeated declarations that he will not send ground troops back into Iraq.
To put these points into perspective, it is important to address two issues that Friedman never raises with the President: military strength and American influence. Regarding the first, Friedman fails to discuss President Obama’s conscious decision to reduce the budgets for, and hence the size of, American military operations throughout the world. In the President’s view, cutting down on the size of the military reduces the American temptation to intervene in disputes around the globe, and thus prevents misadventures such as our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan that have sapped American strength with little or nothing to show for it.
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The second issue Friedman never addressed is the deterioration in world peace that has happened since President Obama became president. No one can claim that Iraq was at peace when George W. Bush left office, but the violence had been curbed. Since Obama has taken over, relative tranquility yielded to factional squabbling, followed by vicious aggression that caught the President woefully off guard. Iraq is not alone. The number of hotspots in the world—including Gaza, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Ukraine and the China Sea—is increasing. The President wrings his hands over how difficult it has become to find credible allies in the world to address these problems without ever asking why no one trusts him. So he resolves to hold back on the use of American force overseas. Armed with that certainty, every tin pot dictator and terrorist group thinks it has an open field in which to run.
The President’s blunders remind us that we need Pax Americana in international affairs.
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