President Obama’s conservative critics often lambast him for being indecisive when it comes to foreign policy and dictatorial when it comes to domestic policy, so I guess in their eyes he’s sort of an indecisive dictator, or more to the point, whatever he does or doesn’t do they don’t like.
I think the president’s biggest foreign policy mistakes have come when he has succumbed to the temptation to talk tough, a manly thing, and only realized later he spoke too hastily, saw more clearly the consequences and then acted more prudently. Syria in particular comes to mind. He tends to be criticized for not arming the “moderate rebels” early enough, but who knows if the more effective radical forces wouldn’t have wound up with those arms as they did later when ISIS became weapons rich after Iraqi troops fled Mosul.
The mistake was asserting from the beginning of the rebellion that Assad must go, this while miscalculating the actual international support to make that happen, and the will of Putin to resist it by providing much support to Assad. So, the president encouraged the rebels’ dream of freedom while not doing much to assist them.
Now we have the odd situation of actually helping Assad stay in power by focusing on destroying ISIS, which is deemed the greater of two evils. And since Assad is the most stable force in Syria, we are not nearly as eager to take him down as we were before, this coming from a change in perspective regarding democracy and chaos in the Middle East. The Arab spring. which seemed so promising, now looks like the roots of Mid-East disintegration and the bad old dictators don’t seem as bad as they used to because they at least maintained order.
Eugene Robinson covers similar ground in a Washington Post column March 30: “U.S. policies on the Middle East are inconsistent but wise”. He addresses the Yemen Issue as well and how it raises one more foreign policy dilemma for the U. S.. He leads off with: “As gung-ho ‘experts’ press President Obama to do this, that or the other in the Middle East, keep a simple rule in mind: Whatever the avid interventionists suggest probably won’t work — and surely will have unintended consequences.”
I can’t imagine more fertile ground for unintended consequences than the increasingly chaotic Middle East.