Sunday, January 22, 2017

What they got Wrong in 8 Years

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State recently penned an article defending Obama foreign policy of the past with years titled "What we got right in 8 years".  In case you missed here it

Since 1945 the first imperative of American Foreign Policy has been "NOT TO BLOW THE WORLD UP".  Measured by that ultra-low bar, Obama did succeed in his foreign policy.   And he did manage, after following up on leads generated in the Bush administration, to kill Osama Bin Laden.  On these two scores Obama did succeed.

Kerry assures us that "most global trends remain in our favor and that America's leadership and engagement area as essential and effective today as ever."  Naturally Kerry seems to have left out what the Obama administration got wrong over the past eight years.  Here is a bit of what Kerry left out...

Tragedy in Syria
The latest estimates reveal a death toll in the Syrian Civil War of 470,000.  In addition around 1.9 million have been wounded in the conflict.  By those totals nearly 11.5% of the entire Syrian population has been either killed or wounded in the struggle which erupted in October of 2011 and continues unabated.

Obama famously drew a rhetorical "red line" in the sand over the use of chemical weapons.  After Assad crossed this line, Obama erased his line in the sand badly damaging American credibility.

Kerry congratulates himself and the administration on not creating a new "quagmire" for America by inserting ground troops into Syria.  But this ignores the fact that there is an enormous range of possible action between doing nothing and inserting the 82nd Airborne into Aleppo.  America Special forces have, of course, been engaged in Syria for some time now.  With little effect.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria is not simply Obama's fault.  It is much worse than that.  It is a failure by the entire West to deal with anarchic tendencies in the world.   Obama's failure to provide Western leadership on Syria has, however, been a catastrophic blunder.  "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" or erase Obama's guilt in this matter.

Tyrant Disrespected
Obama promised a Reset in relations with Russia.  In a 2012 Presidential debate he contemptuously dismissed Romney's concerns about Russia by sneering, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years."

The recent attempts by Russia to hack the US election process are a pointed reminder of the abject failure of Obama to get Russian policy right.  Clearly Putin was acting in a desperate manner.  Why?

American Russian relations now teeter at their lowest ebb in decades.  In 2010 Obama was a no-show at the 65th anniversary of the end of WW2 (  The Russians lost over 23 million people in World War II so they are a bit touchy on the subject.  We Americans are accustomed to hearing a great deal of sentimental twaddle about the "Greatest Generation".  There might have been no surviving "Greatest Generation" of Americans had it not been for the enormous sacrifice of the Russian people.  No American President has EVER expressed proper appreciation for this fact of military history.  It is about time that Trump do so.

Winston Churchill
His bust is back in the White House!
In 2013 Obama became the first American President to EVER cancel a US / Russia summit (  The first rule of diplomacy, as formulated by Winston Churchill, is that "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."  Obama violated, therefore, the cardinal rule of diplomacy.  Does anyone seriously believe that the rights of the LGBT community in Russia are served by the American and Russian Presidents NOT talking to each other?  Or the straight community for that matter.

Obama was, of course, a no show for the Sochi Olympics.

There is a reason why the "hot line" was established between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War.  The Russians and the Americans are nuclear armed countries that, no matter their differences, need to talk to each other.

Napoleon's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Hitler's fatal mistake was to invade Russia.  Obama's fatal mistake was to believe that he could scold Russia into compliance.  Putin really does not care about Op-Eds in NY Times.

Putin is the dictator of a kleptocracy.  He is a former KGB officer.  Putin has completely befuddled Obama.  He is not a Marxist college professor hanging out in the faculty lounge bloviating about his concern for the working class.  He is NOT and ideological Marxist.  Above all, he craves respect for Russia.  He seeks to advance the economic welfare of the Russian people.

Putin is, of course, a tyrant.  All tyrants have the same achilles heel.  From Julius Caesar to Mussolini to Czar Nicholas II they all fear being assassinated by their own people. They are never assured a peaceful transition of power.  They can never trust anyone completely.

American Presidents, on the other hand, can look forward to a future of  spending a comfortable retirement with golfing, lucrative book deals, Presidential libraries and high priced speaking engagements.

American Presidents have engaged successfully with Russian dictators.  In America Invades we wrote about the Teheran summit during World War II, "FDR mixed martinis for Churchill and Stalin. FDR asked Stalin how he liked his drink. Stalin answered that it was OK but cold on his stomach."   FDR engaged with Stalin who is, quite frankly, a much greater monster than Putin.  America sent lend lease to Russia and four out of five German soldiers in World War II were killed on the Eastern front.  Excellent deal making there!

Putin must be engaged with and he must be engaged with forcefully.  He understands best the language of economic and military power.  Obama, to his credit, was right to station American Marines in Norway ( and to forces to Poland and the Baltic Republics (;postID=7092829463494283693;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=9;src=postname).

Putin's goal for Russia has become the destruction of NATO.  He claims that Russia is surrounded.  Putin has increased the strength of his military.  In 2014 he invaded and annexed the Crimea.

American policy has, meanwhile, lacked direction and focus.  The new American policy must be to strengthen NATO which has been the most successful alliance in history.  NATO is "obsolete" in the sense that it could do a better job combatting terrorism and having all its members pay 2% of GDP on defence.  It is NOT obsolete in the sense that it must be scrapped.

Putin must learn that NATO works for its members preserving their self-determination.  The long term goal for NATO should be the incorporation of Russia into NATO as a full member.

The solution to the Syrian crisis runs through Moscow.  Who has greater leverage with Assad America or Russia?  The answer is clear.

Trump must now engage with Putin and attempt to enlist his aid in defeating ISIS.  Once ISIS has been destroyed Trump must make it clear that Assad must, after a decent interval, go into exile.  Perhaps with his family to a Dacha on the Black Sea?
Not the Louisiana Purchase
Kerry claims credit for arresting the progress of nuclear weapons in Iran.  The US has now given billions to a regime that has a long standing record of support for terrorism.  $400 million in cash was delivered in the dead of night on the same day that American hostages were released undercutting Americas policy of not paying for the release of hostages (  Israel, our only Middle East ally, remains highly skeptical of the Iran deal.  Only time will tell whether the Iran deal was worthwhile in spite of its enormous cost in treasure and American credibility.
Bad Hair Decade in N. Korea
North Korea conducted four successful nuclear underground tests during the Obama years.  Kim Jong Un has tested missiles that can reach Japan and Guam (  He remains an unpredictable source of tension in the years to come and the Obama administration made no progress with regard to North Korea.

Obama was highly critical of the policy of keeping Prisoners of the War on Terrorism in Gitmo.  But he never actually closed it.  He never seemed to realize or appreciate that Gitmo is useful in precisely the same way that St. Helena was useful to the British after the Battle of Waterloo.  Napoleon, after his second abdication was never tried.  His case would have become a circus.  Nor was he executed as this would have transformed him into a martyr.  He was imprisoned uncomfortably on St. Helena as he was a danger to the peace of the world.  America should apologize for Gitmo just as soon as the British apologize for St. Helena.

Obama conceived of the war in Afghanistan as the "good war" as opposed to the "mistake" in Iraq.  Obama, recognizing the surprising success of Bush's surge in Iraq implemented a similar surge in Afghanistan.  For a variety of reasons it did not really work.  America has now had troops fighting in Afghanistan for over 15 years.  It is now the longest war in American history.  There are men and women serving in Afghanistan who were toddlers at the time of 9/11 in 2001.

As we noted in the Afghanistan chapter of America Invades..."The attitude towards warfare in Afghanistan is very different from that in the technologically focused West. “Our enemies have the watches,” some Afghans used to say, “but we have the time.” It appears the Western presence may have run out of time in Afghanistan."  (

Perhaps now, after thousands of lives have been lost and trillions have been squandered and siphoned off to corrupt Afghan leaders, it is time to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and send the drug companies in?
Gaddafi: Shot with own Golden gun
Obama, the professed non-interventionist, intervened in Libya.  At the urging of HRC and others, he actively supported the removal of Gaddafi.  The Libyan dictator was a tyrant who feared a violent death and realized the sum of his fears in 2011.

In 2012 four Americans, including my UC Berkeley classmate Christopher Stevens, were killed at the embassy compound in Benghazi.  The coverup which followed (who pushed the video) remains a scandal for the Obama administration.

Libya is a failed state and remains an ISIS stronghold today.  Even Obama has admitted that Libya was perhaps his greatest blunder telling Chris Wallace in a 2016 interview, "Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya."


The Obama administration got many things wrong on foreign policy.  The Trump administration has inherited a tornado of s*@tstorms around the globe.

Finally, let's remember rule one of American Foreign Policy...DON'T BLOW UP THE WORLD!  Trump must begin to repair the broken relationship with Russia.  This is possible.  And far more so than had HRC (AKA Circe) been elected this fall.  America has not had a territorial dispute with Russia since purchasing Alaska from Czar Alexander II in 1867.  "Seward's folly" is a historic reminder that it is possible for the US to do productive and mutually beneficial deals with the Russians.

In order to avoid BLOWING UP THE WORLD it is necessary to keep talking the the Russians.  It is better to jaw jaw than to war war!

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