That would be defending the indefensible foreign policy of the Obama administration
If you receive Morning Insurrection, you would have seen Prof. Miriam Elman’s recommendation to read Jonah Goldberg’s piece on the importance of foreign policy in the upcoming election. (If you don’t currently read Morning Insurrection see the signup box in the upper right-hand corner of Legal Insurrection.)
We can debate how much blame Obama deserves for Syria’s civil war, but almost no one outside his paid staff disputes that he’s only made things worse. The conflict there has set off the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since the end of World War II — that’s John Kerry’s own assessment — which may yet tear the European Union asunder.
The instability closer to the fighting is even more dangerous. Russia and Turkey may soon go to war with one another, as Russia mercilessly and indiscriminately massacres anyone standing in the way of its pet, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The Jordanian monarchy may crumble, in part for a lack of assistance from the United States.
And yet, the gravity of the situation has yet to enter into the presidential contest in a serious way. As a co-author of Obama’s disastrous foreign policy, Hillary Clinton has no interest in calling attention to the global catastrophes unfolding around us. Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to talk about anything he can’t blame on billionaires, and Donald Trump doesn’t want to talk about anything other than his poll numbers, his insults, and the fraudulent claim that he predicted all of this before Bush launched the war in Iraq.
Legal Insurrection readers have read of the administration’s failures in the Middle East generally by Vijeta Uniyal, with Russia by Jonathan Levin, with Israel by Prof. Elman and with Syria by Prof. Jacobson (and many others!)
But it isn’t just here. A Pew poll in December showed that, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks, terrorism is now the top concern among Americans at 18%. National security is third at 8%. A year ago those issues were listed by 1% and 2% of Americans, respectively. Worse for the Democrats, the same poll showed that American trust Republicans more on matters of national security over Democrats by a margin of 46% to 34%. Overall “the share of Americans who say the government is doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism has fallen by 26 percentage points – from 72% to 46% – and now stands at its lowest point in the post-9/11 era.”
Another poll that points to the importance of foreign policy in the upcoming election – and the Democrats’ weakness in that area – is a Gallup poll released last week showing that Americans still opposed the nuclear deal with Iran by a 2 to 1 margin. It’s pretty incredible that President Barack Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement is viewed so negatively. No doubt the Iran’s seizure of ten American sailors, broadcasting images of them surrendering emphasizing America’s impotence (or unwillingness) to confront the threat and other provocations, have reminded Americans that the administration trusted a regime it should have trusted not to build a nuclear bomb.
Of course, discussions of the dynamics of the Republican nominating contest or the surprising resilience of Sen. Bernie Sanders against the Clinton machine has made foreign policy secondary right now.
To be sure there has been some excellent reporting on the recent American failures coming to the fore in battle for Aleppo, but these reports generally don’t seem to be connected to political contest. Two weeks ago a dispatch in The New York Times reported that despair felt among anti-Assad rebels that they were being abandoned by the United States had reached “a new level.” Last week, The Washington Post reported that the fighting in Syria resembled a “mini world war.” The Wall Street Journal described how Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Hezbollah were effectively becoming Iran’s “foreign legion” in Syria. None of this reflects well on the Obama administration, or the Democrats.
It gets worse. While the administration might choose to dismiss Lee Smith’s devastating accusation that it “is complicit” in the war crimes committed by Russia and Iran backing up the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with mass murder, how does it explain away liberals who make similar charges? Last week, New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen, usually an administration cheerleader, called the Syrian civil war a “debacle” that had become the “Obama administration’s shame.” In The Washington Post two weeks ago, liberal intellectuals Leon Wieseltier and Michael Ignatieff similarly argued that the administration’s Syrian policy is “shameful.”
With a growing perception in the electorate that the administration in its foreign policy has failed to protect Americans and American interests, its failures being reported unsparingly and even some of its allies finding its abdications shameful, it’s time to make foreign policy a central issue in the presidential campaign.
Is it really important who Donald Trump insulted today, or how Hillary Clinton manipulated super delegates when the world has become a much more dangerous place in the past seven years (and during four of which Clinton was responsible for foreign policy)? What’s needed is an articulate policy that will attempt to address those threats and a candidate with the credibility to formulate it.
As Goldberg wrote this isn’t the conversation, Clinton, or Sanders or Trump wants to have. So maybe the foreign policy failures of the Obama administration is the focus this campaign needs to take to marginalize the candidates who are unfit to address those failures and boost the candidates who are.
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