The Republican nomination process, presently venued in New Hampshire, comes during a perilous chapter in the nation’s foreign policy. Iraq appears poised to come apart at the sectarian seams and Iran has, in the same week, thanked the U.S. for rescuing its sailors from Somali pirates, threatened to execute an Iranian-American former U.S. Marine it suspects is a CIA spy, and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the EU embargoes Iranian oil. Only three obstacles stand in the way of the world falling apart: the British, our NATO allies, and the United States.
In Washington last week for his first meeting with Defense secretary Leon Panetta, British defense minister Philip Hammond said Britain will not allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, and Britain recently announced it will soon deploy its most advanced destroyer, the HMS Daring, to the region to ensure the Strait remains open for European oil shipments. The British response is encouraging, but Britain’s budgetary woes constrain and restrain its military might. Indeed, any hope for meaningful EU action on Iran is undercut by the fact that Italy, Spain, and Greece are heavily dependent upon Iranian oil. NATO’s ability to confront Iran’s saber-rattling is likewise imperiled by its own internal challenges.
NATO, which requires of its allies neither binding military commitment nor sensical rules of engagement, offers little reason for Americans to hope, or Iran to fear. In Afghanistan, a mission about which there is little fundamental disagreement, Germany’s rules of engagement prevent its soldiers from fighting, and other NATO allies have refused to honor their financial commitments to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”) mission. In Libya, the NATO mission suffered from marked confusion about who would lead, who would follow, and exactly what NATO was fighting for.
The same strategic confusion witnessed in Libya is evident in President Obama’s foreign endeavors. He has failed to confront Iran, has shown no leadership on NATO’s military involvement in Afghanistan, alienated Pakistan as a result of his drone strikes, and, in direct contravention of military recommendations, failed to provide enough American troops in Iraq to safeguard the fragile peace achieved there. In view of Obama’s leadership deficit, his “leading from behind,” the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago in May promises to be more of the same – all style, no substance.