Struggling economically, many in the United States are weary of, and wary of, foreign involvement. That’s understandable. But four seminal events of 2013 should make the White House rethink the costs of an overeager rush to turn inward as it considers our foreign policy direction in 2014:
How so? In September, President Obama endorsed a limited strike on Syrian military targets after the country’s regime crossed his “red line” by killing about 1,000 civilians with sarin gas. However, Obama, wary of Mideast entanglements, got cold feet and suddenly turned to Congress for approval, without warning France or Saudi Arabia (which had pledged support).
Then Moscow threw Obama a face-saver by proposing the chemical weapons deal. The Russians knew the deal would cement Bashar Assad’s hold on power, giving him free rein to keep killing civilians by means other than chemicals.
The continued Syrian conflict has permitted al-Qaida to build a new emirate on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border. The deal also convinced Russia, Iran, Israel and probably China that Obama is unwilling to use force even after pledging to do so. This will affect Iran’s negotiating posture on its nuclear program, along with Russian and Chinese thinking on America’s willingness to stand by its allies.
Egypt’s generals are leading the regional counterrevolution and restoring autocracy as the answer to radical Islam. This won’t work. But no American advice is wanted or listened to anymore, and any talk of democracy is disdained.
What do these four events have in common? They are warning signs that Russia and China will test and take advantage of U.S. weakness to expand their regional ambitions.
Meanwhile, the Mideast will continue to implode, and jihadism will grow, as foes and allies alike assume that Washington has lost interest. Peace talks on Syria, on Iran’s nuclear program, on Israel and Palestine, and on Afghanistan’s security future have little chance if the participants don’t believe America will put muscle behind them.
Obama can put his finger to the wind and follow the public’s desire for America to unload its foreign burdens. But as these four events show, no matter how much we may wish otherwise, the world’s problems won’t leave us alone.