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Altered Consciousness: Obama fails to lead on the world stage

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

When I look at what’s going on in the international scene today, one thing seems clear: the world is continually changing in ways that adversely affect U.S. interests, while the Obama administration appears to be doing little in response.

The first example of this dynamic is Lebanon. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in The Hague, is set to indict members of Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group, as well as their Syrian patrons for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. When this happens, a civil war could very well break out between the Shia Lebanese and the Sunni government, which is led by the slain-Hariri’s son, and its allies. A Lebanon run by Hezbollah would serve as a grave threat to Israel and greatly disturb the Levant. However, besides providing some financial aid and weapons to the Sunnis, the United States has done little to prevent this kind of situation from taking place.

Turkey is also altering the geopolitical dynamic in the Middle East and beyond. Once a secular ally firmly entrenched within the Western sphere of influence and, even to this day, still a potential candidate for membership in the European Union, Turkey, with an increasingly radical and authoritarian government in power, has begun a dramatic shift. Seeking a greater leadership role in the Middle East, it has cultivated closer ties with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, while, at the same time, completely ostracizing Israel and needlessly provoking it with flotillas like the Mavi Marmara. Again, little action by the United States. besides proposing arms sales to the Ankara government.

Next up is Iran. President Obama is rightly focused on the regime’s nuclear program, though he could still go further in this regard by, for instance, imposing more sanctions on individual human rights abusers and maintaining a very credible military option. However, what is less noticed by the administration is the spread of Iran’s pernicious influence, not only to Iraq and Afghanistan, where Iran has funded militias that have killed American soldiers, but to Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Venezuela, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and countries in the Caspian Sea region.

This is not to mention Obama’s negligence of other aspects of Middle East politics. Syria, in the interest of regime preservation, has completely rebuffed Obama’s engagement offers and increasingly ensconced itself within the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis. Iraq will implode if we evacuate the country, as will Jordan due to a huge influx of Iraqi refugees. A Palestinian state in the West Bank would be ultimately taken over by Hamas either through democratic elections or a coup against the corrupt, weak Palestinian Authority. The Taliban is emboldened by Obama’s vacillation on the Afghanistan war.

Russia too is playing a destabilizing role in the world. Prime Minister Putin, who is really in charge of the country’s foreign policy as opposed to his puppet, President Medvedev, still views America as his primary adversary in true Cold War fashion. Interpreting President Obama’s “reset” of relations as a sign of weakness, Putin’s Russia continues to subvert democracy in Eastern Europe, maintain its supreme influence over the former Soviet bloc and countries like Georgia, undermine multilateral sanctions on Iran, use its oil leverage to bend other countries towards its will and threaten NATO.

Meanwhile, China’s rise has not been peaceful but rather, very assertive, from its currency manipulation practices, to its dispute with Japan about the Senkaku Islands, claims over the South China Sea, continued belligerence toward Taiwan and Tibet, increasing ties with countries like Iran, Venezuela, Myanmar, and North Korea, and massively expanding influence globally. U.S.-China relations will not be friendly, as Obama may hope, but competitive—Cold War-lite if you will.

Certainly, one can make the case for each of these countries’ behaviors. Nonetheless, the recurring trend here is that Obama is not prioritizing and paying enough attention to these geopolitically key developments. Alternatively, he simply has been proposing bad policies. Or, as proven by the failures of his latest Asia trip, such as his inability to secure a South Korea-U.S. free trade deal and to solve the Futenma basing issue that is complicating U.S.-Japan relations, he’s simply not up to the job.

It is also true that American economic and political power is on the decline. However, this is not a valid enough excuse for Obama’s lack of leadership.