Dr. Robert Kaufman on "Success or Mess? Obama vs. Mattis on Foreign Policy" | Polizette | Pepperdine University | School of Public Policy

Dr. Robert Kaufman on "Success or Mess? Obama vs. Mattis on Foreign Policy" | Polizette

December 8, 2016  | 3 min read

Success or Mess? Obama vs. Mattis on Foreign Policy

President mounts feeble defense of legacy abroad as incoming Pentagon chief warns of weakened U.S. position

by Robert G. Kaufman | December 8, 2016 | Polizette

In his final national security address, President Obama offered an unbridled defense of his legacy. He boasted of his success in waging the war on terror on ISIL and the efficacy of relying more on an international coalition than American military might to defeat it. His omission of any mention of Iran or the disintegration of Iraq into Hobbesian chaos doubled down on his deep conviction that terror narrowly defined — not Islamic fascism in any variety — constitutes the dominant threat to American interests in the Middle East. Overall, Obama congratulated his foreign policy for “moving forward, answering the call to lead,” while avoiding the burdens of an active combat role in the Middle East

In his April 22, 2016 address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies General Mattis makes a compelling case otherwise: “The next President will inherit a mess … that is the most diplomatic word for it,” precisely because of the Dangerous Doctrine Obama touts. “The Iranian regime,” which the President’s improvident nuclear deal enabled, “is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” Mattis says.

To restore the “deterrence” that President Obama has undermined by shrinking the American military, engaging adversaries, and putting distance between the United States and traditional allies, the United States must show “greater capability, capacity, and resolve.” In contrast to Obama’s rosy assessment, Mattis warned of a “ghastly” future for the Middle East “unless we return to a strategic view, such as we had years ago, because we know that vacuums left in the Middle East seem to be filled by terrorists, or by Iran or their surrogates, or by Russia.” This should also include, Mattis said, a serious and sustained program for research, development and deployment of ballistic missile defense—something abandoned by our ideologically opposed president.

By Gen. Mattis’ reckoning, Obama’s doctrine has put the U.S. in a strategy-free mode, not just in East Asia, but Europe and the Middle East. He could not be more right. Nor could Obama be more wrong. Sen. John McCain assailed Obama’s Tuesday apologia as “a feeble attempt to evade the harsh judgement of history.” McCain continued, “Instead, his legacy on terrorism is unmistakably clear: a disastrous withdrawal from Iraq, the terrorist rampage of ISIL, an indecisive approach to the war in Afghanistan that has empowered the Taliban, and an indifferent approach to the carnage in Syria in which our terrorist enemies have thrived. No rhetorical conceit will alter history’s verdict.”

That harsh verdict applies to Obama’s national security record at large. His dangerous doctrine has lowered the barriers to aggression in all the most important regions of the world. The administration has shrunk American military power precipitously while our adversaries prodigiously build up theirs, imperiling American military preponderance essential to thwart China’s bid for hegemony in East Asia — the most important power center of the 21st century — and Putin’s attempt to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.

Obama's engagement with American adversaries — China, Russia, and Iran — has enabled their hegemonic ambitions while undermining the security of our allies, which the president has routinely treated cavalierly. Putin has used Obama's reset to tranquilize us while Russia subverts Ukraine's independence as part of its grand strategy to reconstitute some version of a Russian Empire across East Central Europe. China has used Obama's obsession with climate change to tranquilize us while that increasingly aggressive, illiberal, and expansionist regime relentlessly erodes American military preponderance in the most important geopolitical region for the 21st century. Iran has used Obama's unverifiable and unenforceable deal to tranquilize us while this virulently anti-American, anti-Semitic expansionist regime moves relentlessly to cross the nuclear threshold, likely triggering a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region.

Obama's deep denial of the existence and danger of Islamic fascism has magnified the danger of it at home and abroad.

His precipitous withdrawal from Iraq not only snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but catalyzed the rise of ISIL in the first place. Obama long dismissed that organization merely as the equivalent of a JV basketball team to the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

Winston Churchill quipped famously that the United States always does the right thing after trying everything else. Perhaps that adage applies to the election of 2016 when it comes to America's national security. Hillary Clinton would have continued Obama's dangerous doctrine, magnifying the mess that Obama has wrought. So we can celebrate that Donald Trump has done the right thing choosing a "Mad Dog" to clean up the mess just in the nick of time. If Gen. Mattis has his way, our foes should fear and our friends should rejoice that America's strategic sanity, resolve, and military preponderance has returned after a perilous eight-year vacation.

Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and author of "Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama's Grand Strategy Weakened America."