Now Unilateralism Doesn't Look So Bad

Debra J. Saunders

6/17/2014 12:01:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

When Barack Obama became the Democratic presidential front-runner in 2008, Europeans went gaga. An estimated 200,000 turned out to hear Obama proclaim himself "a fellow citizen of the world" in Berlin. The Guardian described the speech as "a promise to end the unilateralism of the early Bush years" and said that "the crowd could not contain their delight."

Now the world is seeing the fruit of Obama's Europe-friendly foreign policy. Iraq is a charnel house. The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan. The Middle East is smoldering.

There is a lesson here for all political stripes. When you decide all problems are because of the other party's shortcoming, you tend to overestimate yourself.

Case in point: After the Iraq War became a political hot potato, it became a happy conceit among Democrats that they could succeed in Afghanistan where President George W. Bush failed. In that spirit, Obama told the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver he would dedicate more resources and more troops to "finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11." He said he had "made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights."

To his credit, Obama succeeded in taking out bin Laden. To his discredit, the president undermined his Afghanistan strategy when he announced a troop withdrawal schedule before the surge had a chance to succeed.

The Obama administration failed to cut a deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. Critics say the administration fudged negotiations and thus created a vacuum that allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to root itself in Syria and Iraq. Liberals are free to blame Bush for getting America into Iraq -- with a generous assist from then-Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden -- if that makes them feel superior. But if Baghdad falls, the region will become a haven for militarized terrorists dangerously close to Israel and Europe. That's why Obama just notified Congress that he is sending 275 U.S. troops to Iraq.

I guess that beats waiting for Iran to save Iraq for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Obama tried to do the right thing in Libya, and that decision played well in Europe. Yet for all its good intentions, NATO's air war led to greater instability in that country.

To my mind, Obama's most unforgivable foreign policy blunder was nudging Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a solid ally, out of power. It was unnecessary and completely counter to American interests.

I don't blame this administration for all that is wrong on the world stage. In foreign policy, officials can only pick from a menu of bad choices.

Like our European allies, Americans understandably are fed up with the loss of blood and treasure. Thus, the American people elected and then re-elected Obama; they wanted an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In his memoirs, "Duty," former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote that by 2010, he had come to understand that the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the (Afghanistan War) to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."

Alas, there are consequences to getting out at any cost. Under the administration's nice-guy withdrawal agenda, the world is not a safer place, organized terrorism is not a lesser threat and America's natural allies have added reasons not to rely on Washington.