Monday, February 8, 2016

James J. Coyle: Obama administration global realignment

Published in the Orange County Register on February 6, 2014. To access the original article, click here.

Ever since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union, experts have been predicting a global realignment. The world would no longer be divided into three spheres (free, communist and developing); something new would emerge. This was postponed, however, by the attack on 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror.”
Five years into the Obama administration, a pattern in U.S. foreign policy has begun to emerge. An Obama Doctrine has taken shape, in which the United States is disengaging from the rest of the world.
It began in the Middle East with the Arab Spring. Throughout the early months of 2011, the United States stood by as allies for three decades were swept from power in Tunisia and Egypt. The same forces tried to overthrow the rulers of Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. The Bahrainis asked the White House for help and were denied. Saudi Arabia then invoked the mutual defense provisions of the Gulf Cooperation Council and intervened – against the wishes of the U.S. government.
In December 2011, the last American troops left Iraq. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was fond of quoting what he called the Pottery Barn rule: if you break it, you own it. The United States left Iraq with the pottery shards littering the floor.
In Libya, the Americans allowed NATO to take the lead in the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi. In Syria, after President Barack Obama announced his famous red lines concerning the use of chemical weapons, he stood by and did nothing while the Assad regime gassed its own citizens.
The inaction is not limited to the Middle East. In Europe, the Obama administration (and the Bush administration before) did nothing in the wake of the Russian seizure of Georgian territory. It continues to avoid engagement in the Minsk process to bring peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It has stood by as Turkey abandons democracy and threatens to expel the American ambassador. In light of Russian objections, it withdrew its plans for a missile defense shield. It has provided little to no assistance to European efforts to achieve a small modicum of energy independence from the Russians. Ukraine is being sacrificed through American inertia.
In Asia, China continues to build its military muscle. Faced with a Chinese unilateral declaration of an air defense zone over the South China Sea, the administration advised U.S. commercial carriers to obey Chinese demands. In Africa, the United States has surrendered to the French whatever claim it had to leadership in the anti-terror war. In Latin America, the administration has been absent without leave.
America will continue to shrink its global footprint in 2014, as the Obama administration remains firm that all combat troops will be removed from Afghanistan this year. President Hamid Karzai refuses to sign the status of forces agreement that is needed for any non-combat troops to remain, so the United States may be out of Central Asia entirely within the next 12 months.
About the only place the United States is currently active is with Iran. This is not an effort to increase American influence, however, but an attempt to limit threats in the Persian Gulf so that the United States presence can be reduced further.
Some would argue this is a good thing. After all, fortress America is protected by two oceans, is energy independent in the production of natural gas, and is rapidly decreasing its need for oil imports from outside of North America.
But nature abhors a vacuum. As the U.S. “pivot towards Asia” degenerates into a miniscule amount of military aid to allied countries, China lays claim to offshore atolls claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan and Korea. India has just taken possession of a new aircraft carrier. Iraq is collapsing into civil war, with al-Qaida assuming control of Fallujah and Ramadi. There is an intelligence estimate that Afghanistan's gains will dissipate when the Americans leave. Russia and China announced they are planning joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean, and Iran is planning a naval cruise in the Atlantic.
The United States has kept the peace throughout the world since 1945. As the U.S. withdraws from its traditional role, one hopes it will not lead to the great power conflicts America has contained for 70 years.
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and is the chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.