In an attempt to frame America’s new foreign policy approach as less interventionist and more diplomatic, U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday spoke of his country’s recent so-called achievements. But in actual fact he did little but highlight his administration’s failings.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said, “our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.” It is difficult to see what he means. While elections have recently been held in both countries, they are still beset by extreme violence on a near daily basis. U.S. military intervention appears to have inflamed, rather than reduced, legacies of bloodshed.
While it is impossible, he said, to ignore what goes on beyond America’s borders, it is also important to know when not to pull the trigger. After George W. Bush’s trigger-happy terms, this is certainly true, but in the examples of Syria and Ukraine it can be argued that the U.S. has not done enough. Mere words from Washington have mattered little to the civilians dying in the field.
He also failed to mention Palestine – perhaps inevitably, given his utter failure to deliver on the peace process – and ignored the soured relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf, once key U.S. allies in the region.
Obama also stressed that the U.S. would not become isolationist, and that “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will.” This smacks of self-delusion. Once the world’s leading superpower, the U.S. looks increasingly dwarfed by Russia and China. On Syria and Ukraine, what has and what can it actually achieve?
Though much of the American public might believe Obama’s interpretation of events, the rest of the world is watching, and it is not so easily deceived. Where Obama sees success in soft diplomacy and stepping back, the international community sees stumbling and inaction.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 30, 2014, on page 7.