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Ukraine is worst of Obama’s many foreign policy disasters | The Japan Times

By William Pfaff, The Japan Times

The most devastating reproach historians are likely to make to Barack Obama’s record in the White House is his devastating failure in foreign policy — a failure that stems from his willingness to leave the warrior ideologues of the State and Defense Departments in place after he became president.

To them he added ideologues of a new and equally interventionist persuasion, which he found congenial: that of humanitarian action, scarcely relevant in resisting the Islamic caliphate that emerged as a major force in the concluding half of his second term. By then he also faced a Republican congressional majority distinguished by its ignorance — worse than his own in foreign policy matters — and its vindictiveness.

He arrived in office to a military leadership lacking a political strategy to shape its tactics in the Middle East and Afghanistan. When he asked for options and political counsel on ending the Mideast wars — as he had promised the electorate — he was insolently given settled plans by the generals for prosecuting the wars to victory.

Iraq in fact was eventually abandoned in a condition of political wreckage and sectarian conflict, and Kabul’s leaders have convinced the United States to remain in Afghanistan to prevent the same outcome, which we may fear will nonetheless eventually arrive.

He and the military leadership insisted on a useless and destructive intervention in Libya, with devastating consequences throughout northeastern Africa, and in the Syrian civil war they searched in vain for “moderate” rebel allies to overturn Bashar Assad. Obama would later rue the lack of Assad’s cooperation when the forces of the Islamic State group arrived. With respect to Israel, Obama accepted complaisantly — until one week ago — the defiance and disdain of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He left dealings with Europe, and with the U.S.’ most important and dangerous interlocutor, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, under the controlling influence of a neoconservative cabal in the State Department, committed to reckless policies of American and NATO expansion in Northern Europe.

However, if Obama is to be blamed for these errors, it is also true that his policies have reflected a consensus in the U.S. governing class and popular opinion alike that America must always be “first.” This has been the guiding presupposition of the nation and its elite, the majority of its foreign policy intellectuals and its mainstream newspapers and other makers of opinion.

The invasion of Afghanistan, the search in Iraq for the weapons of mass destruction that “had” to be there, the destruction of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and disbanding of Iraq’s Ba’ath Party, army and the existing Sunni apparatus of Iraq’s government — all were welcomed by most of the American policy community.

But history’s judgment of Obama’s foreign policy will likely hang on the outcome of the American-backed coup in Kiev in February 2014. It was intended to bring about Ukraine’s eventual adhesion to the European Union and ultimately to NATO (despite earlier U.S. assurances to the contrary).

The cease-fire between Ukrainian forces and Russian insurgents that precariously prevails today was brought about by Franco-German diplomatic intervention to pre-empt declared American intentions to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons to expand the war against the insurgents.

The circumstances surrounding the instigation of this crisis have yet to be seriously investigated by the American press, and Russian claims that it was a hostile American act have been dismissed without solid evidence by American and NATO spokesmen and officials.

European opinion and most of the European press, accustomed to follow the American lead in major foreign policy matters, have expressed notable doubt about the origin and purpose of the current American and NATO roles in Ukraine, which seem to have been to provoke an unwelcome war with Russia.

Last weekend, the German weekly Der Spiegel published an investigation of the frequently inflammatory statements of NATO’s commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove (a U.S. officer), regarded by the German government as the leading figure in an American effort “to thwart European efforts at mediation.”

Much of what he says is regarded in the chancellery in Berlin as “dangerous propaganda,” which Germany’s Foreign Ministry has protested to the NATO secretary general.

Spiegel writes that “Obama seems almost isolated. He has … done little to quiet those who would seek to increase tensions with Russia and deliver weapons to Ukraine. Sources in Washington say that Breedlove’s bellicose comments are first cleared with the White House and Pentagon. … (The general’s role) is that of increasing the pressure on America’s more reserved trans-Atlantic allies.”

But to what purpose? Surely not war? Or regime change in Russia?

This is a question for which it seems impossible to find an answer — or even a discussion — in the American media. Europe has no answer. Perhaps even Obama doesn’t know. Is it to be left to the historians?

 William Pfaff writes frequently on foreign affairs. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency

4 Comments

  1. Although at first,it seems far-fetched ( read : insane ) that U.S. elites might want “regime-change” in Russia,it’s a notion that I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand. Elites are incensed, seeing their schemes to control the delivery of oil & gas through ” toll-booths”, crumbling. Elites (and U.S.elites especially) have –I think — shown a published history of “doubling-down” when their “mark” appears to be getting away. But I’m pretty sure that were Mr. Putin to be replaced, most people wouldn’t like what came next.

  2. Whereas I agree with much of the tone of this article. Pfaff shows a terrible lack of knowledge of Europe and its recent history. To say of Obama: “He left dealings with Europe, and with the U.S.’ most important and dangerous interlocutor, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, under the controlling influence of a neoconservative cabal in the State Department, committed to reckless policies of American and NATO expansion in Northern Europe” is plainly wrong.

    Even if one did include the Baltic States in Northen Europe – though it could be argued they consitute part of Central Europe – they joined NATO in 2004, almost five years before Obama became president. Obviously, he is referring to former Soviet republics and satellites in Europe, most of which actually form part of Central Europe. Obama, despite what many may believe in the US and Europe, could have hardly expelled the Baltic States, as the US is only a member of NATO, not its leader.

    Up until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Waraw Pact, the Central European nations Pfaff must be referring to, were often referred as Eastern Europe by people liviing in Western and Northern Europe. For a proper analysis of the situation a quick check of the map is recommended.

    According to Wikipedia:

    “Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Geographically, northern Europe is usually taken to consist of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the British Isles (United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man). Greenland (which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark) is geographically located in North America and is sometimes included in the northern Europe grouping or the Nordic countries, though rarely Scandinavia proper. Some northern parts of Russia are also in the northern part of Europe.”

    Interestingly enough, part of northern Russia is also regarded as northern Europe.

    • I have to back Pfaff on his assertion that Obama’s left America’s dealings with Europe in the hands of the neocon cabal at the State Department. Whoever else may have been involved in the drafting of that policy, it’s no secret that the entire Ukraine fiasco was overseen by Victoria Nuland, an old State Department neocon herself, married to Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and one of the more prominent neocons with over 20 years of influence on the American foreign policy in Europe and elsewhere. Nuland, the notorious Cookie Lady of Kiev’s State Department’s stage-managed Maidan Revolution, America’s second attempt at installing a banana-republic government in Ukraine, is the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia. Her husband, Robert Kagan, who had served as a foreign policy advisor to several U.S. Republican presidential candidates before serving Hillary Clinton in the same capacity, while Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State, remains a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Prior to assuming her current position at the State Department, Nuland herself also served as the 18th US permanent representative to Nato.

      Pfaff is therefore right in his assertion that Obama has relied on Washington neocons for his administration’s foreign policy on Europe — and, specifically, on the same set of people who presided over NATO’s eastward expansion under both Clinton and Bush Jr.

      • I am writing an article on Victoria Nuland’s role in Ukraine, covering the very points you mention, and much more, right now. I hope to post it in the next couple of days.

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