Nothing showcases the impotence of President Obama’s hackneyed foreign policy better than Russia’s military campaign in Syria, and many of the president’s own advisers seem to be fed up with his obstinate unwillingness to heed counsel or accept criticism.
Politico reports, “Sources familiar with administration deliberations said that Obama’s West Wing inner circle serves as a brick wall against dissenting views. The president’s most senior advisers — including National Security Adviser Susan Rice and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough — reflect the president’s wariness of escalated U.S. action related to Syria or Russia and, officials fear, fail to push Obama to question his own deeply rooted assumptions.”
The Politico report goes on to describe how the president has dismissed his most senior advisers who have urged specific and more muscular responses. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged putting in place a no-fly zone in Syria, for example. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, taking Russia’s aggression and nuclear brinksmanship seriously, has “fretted that the U.S. isn’t standing up firmly to Putin’s provocations.” Then there’s Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, who “has complained that Putin is bombing Syrian rebel fighters back by his agency with seeming impunity.”
Key Players Stomp Off
And just when the president needs all the help his foreign policy team can give, some key players are quitting. In a span of just 10 days, reports trickled out that three of President Obama’s top foreign policy advisers have resigned.
John Allen, the retired general with a distinguished military career that President Obama picked to lead the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been at the State Department for just over a year. According to a September 22 Bloomberg report, he will step down this fall. Attempting to finally make meaningful headway in defeating ISIS, Allen offered several options, which the White House rejected:
U.S. officials familiar with Allen’s decision say he has been frustrated with White House micromanagement of the war and its failure to provide adequate resources to the fight. He unsuccessfully tried to convince the administration to allow U.S. tactical air control teams to deploy on the ground to help pick targets for air strikes in Iraq. Allen also tried several times to convince the White House to agree to Turkish demands for a civilian protection zone in Syria, to no avail.
The following week, Politico reported that Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas, responsible for U.S. military relations with Russia and Ukraine, was resigning after five years of service. She offered a blistering (and accurate) analysis of Russia’s recent behavior in a 2014 congressional hearing.
In it, she said, “Russia’s actions stand as an affront to the international order that we and our Allies have worked to build since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, followed by blatant and unconcealed efforts to destabilize eastern and southern Ukraine, signifies a paradigm shift for our relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s efforts to portray the situation otherwise, this crisis is entirely one of its choosing. These actions represent a wholesale rejection of the goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.” No doubt her efforts notwithstanding, her words have not been supported by substantive action.
Then, the Federal Times reported that Ari Schwarz, one of the administration’s top advisers on cyber-security, left on September 30, a few days after President Obama announced he and Chinese President Xi had reached a “common understanding” on cyber-theft. This non-binding meaningless agreement, with no enforcement mechanisms, comes in the wake of a slew of cyber-attacks on American government agencies and private companies, including the large cyber-attack by Chinese entities on the Office of Personnel Management computer systems that stole the personal data that belongs to about 22 million Americans.
Each adviser gives disparate pretenses for exiting their posts, of course, but their timing is conspicuous. With just over a year left of this presidency and their areas of responsibility arguably in crisis mode, they have concluded there are better ways to spend their time.
Hillary Clinton: I Love Chaos
This brings us to former secretary of State and candidate for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Last night at the first Democrat debate, Clinton chose not to fully distance herself from President Obama’s foreign policy. She had ample opportunity to show she has taken to heart any of the many pieces of advice she has surely read in public reports or heard in her private meetings as secretary of State, and to put them forward as viable alternatives to whatever President Obama thinks he is or isn’t doing to further American security. She did not.
Not only did she fail to offer any real criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy, when asked to name the biggest national security threat she said “nuclear proliferation.” Note, she did not say “Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon” or “Russia’s nuclear brinksmanship.” She did not list an actual actor with a will and a capability to do harm.
Instead, she harkened back to President Obama’s 2009 Prague Speech, in which he laid out a lofty agenda for, among other things, engaging enemies of the United States like Iran, and for reigning in the world’s nuclear weapons. Rather than bringing greater peace and stability, this agenda, based on “deeply rooted assumptions,” has brought us diplomatic agreement after agreement, and nothing but war and instability to show for it.
This did not dissuade Clinton from attempting to establish her foreign policy bona fides by bragging that she had President Obama’s trust: “I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room.” While in the Situation Room, was she one of those who challenged him, or was she more like Rice and McDonough, who “fail to push Obama to question his own deeply rooted assumptions?” Her performance at the debate seems to answer that question soundly.