How things look depend on where you stand

By Lorenzo

This post from Stratfor points out that the US faces much less stressful challenges than the EU or China or Iran. So, the re-elected President Obama faces a world where the US’s hand, vis-a-vis other Powers, is strengthening rather than weakening.

I really don’t get the angst about President Obama’s foreign policy. Yes, he has been less friendly to Israel, but that is likely to be, if anything, helpful in wider Middle East policy. Yes, he should have been stronger in supporting the Green Revolution in Iran, but that is partly a learning curve matter, including trying too hard to be different from the preceding Administration. (And the intervention in Libya strikes me as a backhanded way of saying they got it wrong in Iran.) Hillary Clinton is a popular Secretary of State for good reason. But, really, he has prosecuted the anti-jihadi war vigorously, Libya is now ex-Qaddafi and the al-Assad have too much to worry about back in Syria to play games elsewhere. Even better, Iran has over-committed its dwindling resources in propping the al-Assad regime up which are making sanctions more effective.

There are issue about Executive power overreach, but that is a hardy perennial in war, particularly a struggle as inherently legally murky as the jihadi war. Yes, the US has more debt than it should, but that is because the President listened to Larry Summers (who believed monetary policy had no options) and so did not make timely and helpful appointments to the Fed Board which could have allowed Ben Bernanke to do more quicker. (Leaving Fed positions vacant for months was criminally stupid: not a mistake any Oz Government would make with the RBA Board.) And doing yourself strategic damage through getting monetary policy wrong has been done before — notably by the UK during the interwar period.

Meanwhile, the US dominates world military spending — it spends wildly more than enough to defend itself; whether it spends enough to manage the global system is more moot, but see original point about improving relative position. Given that the US spends more on military R&D+Testing and Evaluation than the total military budget of any country except China, its qualitative and quantitative superiority is not going away anytime soon. While the upside of the Iraq and Afghan Wars is that the US’s ground and air forces remain battle hardened. (China’s last serious outing was a less than stellar performance on the ground against Vietnam over 40 years ago.)

So, a relatively comfortable global situation. Perhaps it is not so surprising that Ben Affleck has apparently produced a fine thriller that has CIA officers as good guys and portrays the Iranian regime as the terroristic thugs they are.


  1. derrida derider
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hmm – one regime’s “terroristic thugs” are another regime’s defenders of the national interest.

    I really have no time for all this sabre-rattling aobut Iran, especially as (like the buildup to Iraq) it is often being supported by demonstrable lies.. The mullahs are a pretty ugly lot but they are also, on any objective view of their foreign policy, also a very cautious lot much more concerned with avoiding destruction by hostile powers (especially the one that recently destroyed two of the neighbours) than with spreading Islamic revolution.

    It reminds me of my youth when the USSR was constantly portrayed as massively expansionist and aggressive. They too were an ugly lot but they were much more preoccupied with avoiding having their regime changed than with changing other regimes. It’s the US that keeps talking about spreading liberty at the point of a bayonet.

  2. kvd
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    You say Hilary Clinton is popular “for good reason”. I would be interested to know what you see those “good reasons” are?

    The linked polls: the latest one is May this year, and several others stretch back to 2011 and earlier. It would be interesting to see more recent figures, perhaps post election, or post the Benghazi episode.

    As for President Obama, I thought his high point in foreign policy was winning the Nobel Peace Prize; mostly downhill from there, with little difference from his predecessor, except expansion of drone strikes, on foreign soil, even against (I think) an American citizen at one stage. Be interesting to see what the reaction might be if either or both Russia and China take a leaf out of that book.

    That leaves present and immediately past conflicts. Libya: just lost an ambassador; Iraq: turned into a carpark, so anything happening is bound to be better – and certainly it is; Afghanistan: end game to come, but I doubt the withdrawal will be “with honour”, and I doubt the aftermath will be viewed as successful.

    And I’m not really encouraged by the fact that US forces are ‘battle hardened’ as you call it. That alone surely indicates a gross failure in diplomacy – no?

  3. kvd
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    The above should be taken as critique, not criticism. Every society needs policemen, and that includes the world at large. But let’s at least be aware that it is sometimes dirty, thankless work, involving questionable methods.

    On a brighter note, the country which intrigues me at the moment in that part of the world is Turkey. The past twelve months or so they seem to have pushed ‘outwards’ with a series of very high profile sporting, fashion and social events – and I’m wondering what’s going on behind the scenes.

  4. Tim Quilty
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    DD – the USSR was happy to change regimes whenever and wherever it thought it could. And the Soviet army was ready and eager to invade West Germany as late as 1988.

    Likewise, Iran is exporting jihad to Syria, Lebanon & Palestine. Whether they would use nukes for more then a deterrent against outsiders interfering in the export of their revolution is another question.

    And like the Soviets, it’s likely that if left alone their economy will crash all by itself. But In 1991 the Soviet Union wasn’t run by fanatical Milleniarians expecting the world to end in apocalypse – the communists had given up on believing in anything much by that point. I’m not convinced we can expect a similar happy ending to this particular ugly lot.

  5. Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I am not sure what “diplomacy” would have worked regarding the Taliban. And having your military retain proven effectiveness tends to aid diplomatic effectiveness.

    It is easy to put a bad spin on messy events and be pessimistic about the future, but that strikes me as business as usual, not something calling for deep angst.

    As Secretary of State, Hillary has been an active and effective public advocate for the US, which seems a sound grounds for popularity.

    While the Administration did poorly in the aftermath, I don’t know that it could be blamed for the killing of Ambassador Stevens.

    [email protected] The US overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein elicited very mixed reactions in the Iranian regime, since they hated both regimes and were glad to see them go. The outcome in both cases is more mixed, since multi-party electoral politics has awkward internal resonances within Iran.

    The most obvious problem with a nuclear-armed Iran is the N+1 problem; the prospect seems to terrify their neighbours and making the Middle East even more fraught does not seem a good thing.

  6. kvd
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I bow to your more complete knowledge. For mine, I have the simple view that any government’s ‘most highest of high’ priority is to keep its citizens safe. And even above that, to ensure its representatives are received honourably, just as if they were walking in their own capital.

    Simplistically, I’d suggest the American ambassador to Libya was provided with less on the ground protection than (repeatedly) requested; was observed (for several hours) to be under siege without an adequate response; was killed by persons unknown who to this day remain at large.

    That is not how respect for any nation’s sovereignty is maintained. HC is Secretary of State. No ambassador sleeps safer at night by this failure. No success in any other theatre excuses this (ongoing) failure.

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