Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures Harm Real People in Many Countries

By Lynn Wardle | December 1, 2015 | 2:07pm EST
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about attacks in Paris from the briefing room of the White House, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Obama is calling the attacks vows to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Friday night, November 13, 2015, eight ISIS terrorists, carrying AK-47s and wearing suicide belts, made six coordinated attacks in Paris, which, according to Fox News, killed at least 129 persons (including at least one American) and wounded at least 352 other victims. In response, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, made another speech. 

The effective management of international relations requires an understanding of and ability to competently practice power politics.  That is especially important for the government of the most powerful, most prosperous, most culturally influential nation on earth in the twenty-first century.   With leadership comes responsibility.  Sadly for the United States, and for the world, the current President of the United States lacks comprehension of that specialized body of knowledge, and he is devoid of that kind of expertise. 

President Obama’s forte is rhetoric.  That skill is a valuable tool to help win elections, rally friends, and to motivate supporters.  However, in the hard, cold world of global politics, mere rhetoric is of only limited influence. 

In international affairs, words are cheap; actions speak much more loudly than words.  And for the past seven years, President Obama has proven to be reluctant to take effective action, and very inept at doing so when he has made the attempt.  He lacks the ability, so critical to successful foreign policy, to speak clearly with his actions.

Two weeks after the Paris terrorist attacks, President Obama addressed the issue of terrorism again. He spoke at an international press conference at the G-20 summit meeting in Turkey.

“Time after time, the question was essentially the same: Why isn’t your strategy against the Islamic State working?

“And time after time, President Obama pushed back, trying to navigate a narrow path between expressing outrage at the ‘terrible and sickening’ attacks in Paris and standing by an approach that he said would eventually succeed if given enough time.”

Obama’s remarks at the G-20 were a lame attempt to justify his tragically failed foreign policy.  His record of inaction and inadequate response against international ISIS violence has clearly shown the utter failure of his pacifist ideology.

Even the long-supportive New York Times noted the ironic foreign policy claims of President Obama. It reported: “Just last week, a day before the attacks that killed at least 129 in Paris, Mr. Obama said ‘we have contained them,” referring to the Islamic State’s control of territory in Syria and Iraq.”

The ironic contrast between the President’s self-laudatory claim one day that his policies had successfully “contained” terrorism, and the deadliest armed attacks to occur in Paris since the end of World War II, the next day, highlights the gap between reality and political rhetoric.  President Obama sees the world through thick lenses that are so thick that even terror attacks that kill scores of innocent civilian victims are distorted into unrecognizable images.

Perhaps the worst aspect of President’s response to the questions about his foreign policy at the G-20 meeting in Turkey was the clear indication that the leader of the free world refuses to recognize his failures and is determined to persist in his fiascos.  The Times noted that, “the president seemed frustrated by second-guessing and twice chided reporters for asking the same question in slightly different ways.  He denied underestimating the Islamic State … .”

The ability to recognize when changes are needed, and the moral fortitude to make timely changes in public policy, including especially in foreign policy, are the first requirements of competent political statesmanship.  That requires an ability for self-reflection and internal-assessment that is uncomfortable for and absent in many politicians, including Mr. Obama. 

The President’s answers to the international media at the news conference in Turkey embarrassed not only himself but the nation over which he presides.  His administration has weakened, if not forfeited, more than a century-long legacy of American leadership in international initiative.  His stubborn defensiveness has portrayed American leadership as petty, self-obsessed, and ideologically-blinded.  

As the Paris attacks show, the victims of the failures of President Obama’s foreign policy include not only American soldiers, their families, and fellow-citizens.  The recent deterioration of American foreign policy and military strategy also harms many innocent men, women and children of other nations.

Patience and the pursuit of peaceful solutions to international conflict is laudable and most successful when balanced with strong, timely, determined, and focused military measures. President Obama has exercised only timid, weak, untimely and waffling military actions.  The effects of such feeble action complemented to such strong words only serves to lessen his credibility and the world’s respect for our nation’s leadership.  As a result, the world has become a deadlier, less-secure place.

Lynn D. Wardle is the Bruce C. Hafen Professor of Law at Brigham Young University.  He is author or editor of numerous books and law review articles mostly about family, biomedical ethics and conflict of laws policy issues. His publications present only his personal (not institutional) views.

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