Making Sense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

Except for the West Bank and Gaza, the U.S. is responsible for drone attacks that took place in all these locations. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in all of them.
Except for the West Bank and Gaza, the U.S. is responsible for drone attacks that took place in all these locations. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in all of them, and has reportedly grown belligerent and popular.

What might have sounded like a conspiracy theory not too long ago now dawns upon us like an ugly truth.

Drone attacks and clandestine operations authorized by President Obama have so far contributed, albeit to varying degrees, to the destabilization of Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. The same effect has also been achieved in Syria and Iraq but mostly through inaction.

In case of Iraq, the inaction was evident in the lack of serious pressures on the Maliki government to curb its repressive sectarian policies vis-à-vis the country’s Sunni population, and embark on a serious path of national reconciliation. In Syria, on the other hand, it was the failure to move against Assad early on in connection to his use of mass violence against civilian populations, coupled with the adoption of a haphazard approach to supporting moderate rebel forces–doing it through regional proxies, and failing to include the advanced weapons that can actually made a difference in the battlefield; — it was this failure that has devastated this country and paved the way to its effective implosion. More importantly though, there were times when the U.S. actually blocked arms shipments to rebels, creating the very vacuum that facilitated the rise of Al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

In the meantime, the lack of coordination with any effective fighting force on the ground, the substantial collateral damage that is often incurred, and the absence of any political process that can produce alternatives to the existing system of governance, on the national and/or local levels, have combined to transform drone attacks into instruments of radicalization and instability in Yemen and Pakistan. While certain key Al-Qaeda leaders and operatives have been taken out as a result of these attacks, the overall impact was to help expand Al-Qaeda’s appeal in local communities and to increase popular anger against local and central authorities, fomenting mutinies and rebellions, and strengthening rather than weakening Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, locally, nationally and globally.

The fact that the Administration remains adamant on pursuing these policies despite ample warnings of the consequences even form within its own camp, and from former members of the administration, some of whom seem to have indeed left or been pushed out exactly on account of their disagreement with the administration in regard to these policies; the fact that no change or review seem forthcoming, leave us little room but to conclude that either the Administration is made up of fools, or, that they know exactly what they are doing. That is, spreading chaos and instability in key places around the world might actually be the real policy of the Obama Administration.

This is at least one potential explanation that can no longer be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, because, the alternative we are left with is, again, to believe that the entire policymaking establishment under Obama is made up of knaves and fools. But, no matter how tempting it is to believe that, it’s simply not true. There are a lot of highly intelligent and informed people within the ranks of administration and at all different levels, and a plethora of highly knowledgeable people who advise them. Still, we won’t likely know what’s what and who’s who any time soon, because there is little transparency here. For while the Bush Administration might have had no choice but to take direct ownership over what it was doing, seeing that its policies involved overt occupation of two sovereign countries, the clandestine nature of Obama’s policies leaves little room for immediate stocktaking and accountability. Even in Syria, the one place where the consequences of Obama’s policies can hardly be hidden, Obama can still tap into the growing war-wariness of the American people and claim, disingenuously, that his aim is to keep the U.S. out of other people’s civil wars, and that the U.S. involvement would not have made much of a difference anyway.

But is the U.S. really staying out? Or is it simply working towards outcomes that it cannot publicly justify, on account of the humanitarian toll they entail?

Could the U.S. under Obama be actively pursuing the creation of a new regional order, one policed by Israel and Iran? Are current negotiations with Iran more an attempt to agree on the nature of her role in the new regional order, and to ensure that she accepted certain limitations on her military capabilities, at least for a certain transitional period and as a trust-building measure? Are we witnessing an attempt at reviving the old alliance that existed under the late Shah?


There is ample amount of monographs, studies, reports and plans that have been published over the last two to three decades that speculate on the processes that will shape the 21st Century, and scenarios that included a U.S.-Iran rapprochement have actually been elaborated and, in some instances, recommended. Predicting the breakup of countries and the rise of new powers has for long been one of the favorite pass-times of many of think tanks in Washington, D.C., and of academic institutions around the world. But there is more to this than curiosity of course. Attempting to predict and shape future events is actually part of the ongoing responsibilities of any self-respecting “power,” be it a country, an alliance a group, or a corporation, towards her citizens and/or stockholders. But the line between predicting certain outcomes and actually planning/conspiring to make them come true has always been thin and there should be no doubt in our minds that it is often crossed by a variety of actors, not all of them in the West.

And there are times when certain predictions are made with such frequency that they become accepted as inevitable rather than merely probable, and certain politicians might find it ill-considered to oppose them. Rather they might consider steering them to be the better and more rational alternative. But processes that are embraced with cynicism are also managed with cynicism, and that can only pave the way to disaster.

“[P]rocesses that are embraced with cynicism are also managed with cynicism, and that can only pave the way to disaster.”

The grounds in the Levant, the Middle East, and in places around the world such as Central Africa and South Asia, have for long been ready for upheaval. The real conspirators in this regard are often the ruling elite. Their corruption, authoritarian predilections, and mismanagement of their countries’ affairs over decades have done enough to allow for certain predictions to become self-fulfilling prophecies. No less important in this regard is the anti-modern attitude that most members of this elite harbored deep within them, appearances notwithstanding. When push came to shove, they always regressed to tribal and sectarian modes of communications and solidarity and set in motion the very processes that led to instability.

This tendency points, as well, to a failure by the intellectual elite in rising to the task of better informing their people and increasing their awareness of the modern world, its values and its processes.

But, in the final analysis, the decision made by Bashar Al-Assad and the ruling clique in Syria to treat the entire country as though it were a personal possession or a fiefdom, and to become mass murderers rather than mass reformers was wholly theirs. If falling back on sectarian sentiments was something that came naturally to them and their followers, as was the case with some of their opponents, this was not the result of any external dabbling, but the manifestation of an inherent quality that they all shared.

This tendency might have been one of those factors predicted by analysts in think tanks and universities in the West, and their proposed contingency plans and policy recommendations to their governments might have reflected it, but they did not invent it. Nor did they invent the inherent and chronic problems of our region. Indeed, Western societies might have manipulated and benefitted from our pre-modern tendencies, but, ultimately, they are not responsible for them, and it’s not their responsibility to see us rise above them, or to even make it easier for us. The responsibility is ours. And the failure to take ownership of it and to achieve a measure of lasting success in this regard after decades of independence is also ours. This may not be how things should be, for considering the nature of modern values espoused and professed by Western societies, they should be expected to help not take advantage. But this is simply how things are. People tend to betray their avowed ideals when certain interests are involved, and/or when they know that they could get away with it.

So, if there are certain powers today, the U.S. among others, who are trying to steer the current upheaval in the region, and elsewhere, in certain directions deemed more beneficial to their interests, this should hardly come as a surprise. Our protestations in this regard, while not irrelevant, could very well become so, if not coupled with serious attempts at self-empowerment through team-building, prioritizing, and realistic goal-setting.


So, considering all this, could the U.S. under Obama be doing exactly what some of us were asking them to do: lead the transitional phase towards the rise of a multipolar world?

If so, they are going about it all wrong. The leadership we need is not meant to be a clandestine affair run by a certain policy elite with little interest in communicating with the people involved. We need openness and a public debate on the exact nature of the new multipolar order that is to emerge. We need and want a serious measure of transparency and accountability on part of those taking charge of the process. We want to prevent mass murder not enable, engage and legitimize its perpetrators and allow its continued use as an acceptable policy tool.

There is something deeply cynical about the way the various crises are being managed today, especially by the Obama Administration. Now, I am a cynical person myself, but I always thought that this is a tendency which I needed to fight, not embrace. That’s why I became an activist. I believed the fight is always worth it. Indeed, working against one’ cynicism is how progress in our awareness of things is actually made.

But there is something that goes beyond cynicism that is at work here as well. It’s opportunism. But what’s the ultimate goal involved? What is the Obama Administration really trying to accomplish? It’s difficult to say at this stage, because the official line is that the U.S. is not involved in this particular fray, and is, in fact, trying to remain above it. While suggesting otherwise, available evidence is still insufficient to allow us to draw definitive conclusions regarding ultimate objectives.

But, in general, it seems that the Obama Administration has reconciled itself to the inevitability of continued mass violence resulting in major demographic changes, spread of extremism and break-up of countries. The administration also seems to be quite willing to accommodate and re-legitimize dictatorial regimes, as the lesser evil, or the least worst option currently available. That its policies might have contributed, in part at least, to the endurance of this option and that the U.S. may not be able to effectively shield itself from the fallouts is not something that the Obamites are willing to consider, not to mention acknowledge.