Victor Davis Hanson published a memorable piece in the National Review last week entitled “America as Pill Bug.” The pill bug or the roly-poly bug is one that turns itself into a ball when it feels threatened. Hanson writes:
That roly-poly bug can serve as a fair symbol of present-day U.S. foreign policy, especially in our understandable weariness over Iraq, Afghanistan, and the scandals that are overwhelming the Obama administration.
On August 4, U.S. embassies across the Middle East simply closed on the basis of intelligence reports of planned al-Qaeda violence. The shutdown of 21 diplomatic facilities was the most extensive in recent American history.
Yet we still have over a month to go before the twelfth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, an iconic date for radical Islamists.
Such preemptive measures are no doubt sober and judicious. Yet if we shut down our entire public profile in the Middle East on the threat of terrorism, what will we do when more anti-American violence arises? Should we close more embassies for more days, or return home altogether?
Hanson makes an excellent point about the way the Obama administration’s closure of embassies is likely to be viewed in the Arab world and around the globe. Although, as Jeff pointed out in a post last week, the administration may have ulterior motives–by trying to create a distraction–by closing the embassies in this manner, the reality is that the interpretation of the administration’s actions by our international foes is likely to proceed in a manner similar to that Hanson envisions in his article.
Hanson looks at the example of Libya and Syria to illustrate that the administration’s “lead from behind” strategy is not working, and that it appears to be counterproductive:
Instead, the terrorists are getting their second wind, as they interpret our loud magnanimity as weakness — or, more likely, simple confusion. They increasingly do not seem to fear U.S. retaliation for any planned assaults. Instead, al-Qaeda franchises expect Americans to adopt their new pill-bug mode of curling up until danger passes.
Our enemies have grounds for such cockiness. President Obama promised swift punishment for those who attacked U.S. installations in Benghazi and killed four Americans. So far the killers roam free. Rumors abound that they have been seen publicly in Libya.
Instead of blaming radical Islamist killers for that attack, the Obama reelection campaign team fobbed the assault off as the reaction to a supposedly right-wing, Islamophobic videomaker. That yarn was untrue and was greeted as politically correct appeasement in the Middle East.
All these Libyan developments took place against a backdrop of “lead from behind.” Was it wise for American officials to brag that the world’s largest military had taken a subordinate role in removing Moammar Qaddafi — in a military operation contingent on approval from the United Nations and the Arab League but not the U.S. Congress?
No one knows what to do about the mess in Syria. But when you do not know what to do, it is imprudent to periodically lay down “red lines.” Yet the administration has done just that to the Bashar al-Assad regime over the last two years.
Hanson sees the Obama administration’s foreign policy as a disastrous replay of the Carter doctrine, once again illustrating Glenn Reynolds’ frequent observation that a replay of Jimmy Carter is simply the “best-case scenario” for Obama.
While I believe Hanson is right in his characterization of the big picture and the likely consequences of Obama foreign policy, I’d differ from him in seeing Obama as being as feckless and weak as Carter. I’d maintain that Carter’s foreign policy was guided by a number of naive precepts about the nature of the world. At least during the years of his presidency, I’d contend that Carter “meant well” in the way the phrase is commonly used to describe a hopelessly incompetent bumbler who seems incapable of recognizing his own shortcomings. Likewise, early in the Obama administration, Tammy Bruce started referring to Obama as Urkel, the nerdy, awkward, inept kid from the TV show “Family Matters” who had an uncanny ability to mess up almost everything he touched. That certainly is one narrative for what Obama is doing in the world of foreign policy, but I’m not sure it is the right one.
As I contemplate Obama foreign policy, though, particularly in the Middle East, I find myself thinking more and more that although incompetence might be the simplest explanation, it might not be the best or the right one. I see no good intentions in the administration’s domestic policy, so why should its foreign policy be exempt from charges that it is motivated more by malevolence to the United States and its role in history than by a supposed set of “liberal” ideals?
This is an administration that seems bent on alienating all of our historical allies as quickly as possible, while taking it easy on our geopolitical foes. Obama seems to want our allies to view us as unreliable and untrustworthy while making sure our enemies view us as weak, indecisive, and either unable or unwilling to use force to protect our interests or to enforce our stated policy goals. If there is a better explanation of the administration’s ultimate foreign policy goals, I’d sure like to know what it might be.