Three errors made by our president | Rich Elfers

President Obama has made three major mistakes in regard to foreign policy.

First, U.S. intervention in Libya destroyed a government that, while corrupt, was structured in such a way as to tamp down on the Islamists. Now, the Islamists are threatening Libya and neighboring Mali, forcing the French to intervene. The lack of an autocratic dictator like Qadaffi has helped bring about Islamist extremism in the region.

Obama’s second mistake was when he threatened to attack Syria’s Assad over chemical bacterial weapons being used on civilians and hesitated when Assad called his bluff and used them.  Fortunately for the president, Russian President Putin came to his rescue and got al-Assad to agree to give up Syria’s chemical stockpile.

The president’s third major mistake was to encourage Ukraine to move toward the West in the name of human rights and self-determination. This threatened Russia’s historic need for a buffer between the European peninsula and Russia.

Obama instead should have pushed the Ukrainians toward accommodating the Russians by remaining unaligned. Putin would have allowed the Ukrainians to remain democratic and independent as long as they didn’t push to ally with the European Union. Neither the U.S. nor western Europe are willing to send soldiers to defend Ukraine when that country is part of Russia’s “near-abroad.”  The Russians have both tactical and strategic superiority due to their proximity to Ukraine. Defending Ukraine short of World War III is impossible.

President Obama is correct, however, in regard to dealing with the Islamic State. IS is not an existential threat to the United States. In other words, our existence is not threatened by its rise. IS is, however, a threat to the region, but Obama’s refusal to put “boots on the ground,” other than as advisers to the Iraqis, is a brilliant decision.

By the U.S. refusal to send in American soldiers, the Shia-dominated Iraqi government had to change their abusive policy toward both the minority Sunnis and the Kurds. The Iranians have been forced to intervene to help fellow Iraqi Shias. Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar have also had to come to Iraq’s aid to protect their own nations.

Sunni Turkey is also being forced to intervene, but only reluctantly and gradually. This will force the Turks to have to deal with their neighbor Iran rather than expect the U.S. to do the heavy lifting. Turkey will eventually be forced to become a major regional power in the Middle East, as it was for centuries under the Ottoman Empire from the 1400s until the end of World War I.

Israel does not like the shift in U.S. policy, especially dealing with Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent speech before Congress was an attempt to influence foreign policy using the Republican-controlled Congress as his wedge.

The Republicans in Congress are threatening the president’s ability to deal with the Iranians through their interference in foreign diplomacy. Obama’s attempt to come to agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons is the best thing for the U.S. and the region.

Historically, Iran has been a better ally than an enemy. Iran can be that way again, if the U.S. can get an agreement with them over nuclear weapons.In the long run, Israel will benefit from a diverted Iran, which will be kept in check by the Turks and the Arab Sunnis.

The U.S. focus should really be toward the rise of China. Obama’s pivot into the Asian Pacific is the right move for the U.S. The president’s strategy is to strengthen alliances with the string of island nations that hem in China on its Pacific side: Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.  President Obama’s guidebook is Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” As Machiavelli noted, nations need to be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. The U.S. should seek a balance of power all over the world, letting our allies do the fighting, if necessary. What the U.S. must do is remain above the regional issues in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We must only intervene with U.S. troops, and our treasure, when our interests are in danger and they pose an existential threat to us.

This is the only really realistic foreign policy the U.S. can maintain over long periods of time. The U.S. does not have unlimited power. We must use our great power carefully and cautiously, remembering our allies, and respecting our enemies.

While President Obama has made major mistakes in Libya, in Syria, and in Ukraine, he is acting wisely in Iraq and Syria, and with Iran.  We need to let the President do his job without Congressional interference.  The U.S. as the only superpower will continue to make mistakes, but President Obama overall has done an excellent job in foreign affairs.