To say that the administration has dropped the ball on foreign policy would be a gross understatement.
The full list of disasters resulting from neglect and inaction is too long to recount, but we can highlight the most damning: Israel and the Palestinians are further from peace than ever. Egypt’s once-promising move toward democracy has stalled as the Muslim Brotherhood government has become more authoritarian. Narcotics continue to flow north into American cities while a drug war bleeds our southern neighbor. And of course, the Europeans still have not gotten their economic house in order.
Yet, the administration’s greatest failures came about in those key moments when it lacked decisiveness, ignored complexity and relied on flawed analysis. In Syria, it refused to deploy the U.S. airpower that had been so effective in Libya. Instead, it embraced an effort to arm the self-evidently ineffective and incoherent opposition in its doomed effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. The administration said Assad’s fall was inevitable but refused to make it so. Thousands died as Washington fiddled; instability and violence spread into Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan; and U.S. weapons leaked into terrorist hands. Now civil war has virtually engulfed the most strategic region in the world, making it a playground for al-Qaeda and Iran’s Quds Force.
The administration’s effort to get tough on China also backfired. Rather than seek to integrate a power whose unstoppable rise was clear to all who cared to look, the administration built up the U.S. military presence in Asia, criticized China’s human rights abuses and increased trade restrictions on Chinese goods. Beijing responded with predictable wrath and flexed its new muscles, slowing its purchases of U.S. Treasury bills and restricting U.S. goods coming into China, which plunged the United States back into recession. China is now doubling its defense budget, demanding that Washington end military assistance to Taiwan and making grandiose claims about extending its territorial waters — leaving us with the miserable choice of abandoning our allies to a bully or risking military conflict.
The chaos in Syria and the setbacks in China, however, are nothing next to the looming war between India and Pakistan, which threatens to be the first war between two nuclear powers. The administration focused on the problems of the past, wasting its energy on East Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and missed the obvious crisis in South Asia.
Despite repeated acts of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan against India, somehow the administration failed to heed its own intelligence predicting the brutal Lashkar-i-Taibaattacks on hotels and tourist sites in Mumbai last month — attacks that paralleled strikes in 1993, 2006 and 2008. (Just see today’s Washington Post column by David Ignatius, in which he quotes intelligence warnings about the risk of a terrorist attack emanating from Pakistan and describes the heroic but unsuccessful efforts of senior military and counterterrorism officials to get the administration to listen.) Policy toward the subcontinent before the attacks consisted of drone strikes, troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and neglect — no wonder Pakistan thought it could act with impunity.