Team Obama’s Foreign Policy
Tactical successes, strategic failures, and raw politics


The 2012 presidential election is upon us, and the nation is rightfully focused on the incredibly difficult economic challenges we face. There is no doubt our Republican candidates can and should hold President Obama accountable for the sorry state of the economy, which is the direct result of flawed policies Obama jammed through a Democratic-controlled Congress.

But Republican presidential candidates would be making a devastating mistake if they did not also challenge the Obama administration for its many strategic errors in the War on Terror, even if they should give him credit for some tactical successes as well. The president’s desire to boost his chances of reelection is affecting his national-security decisions — and this trend will only worsen as his political prospects dim.

That President Obama will sacrifice strategic thinking on national security in favor of raw political calculation should come as little surprise to those who have followed his rise up the political ladder.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Candidate Obama became the darling of the hard Left by his opposition to the Iraq War as he pummeled Sens. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton for their votes in favor of military intervention. Candidate Obama opposed the surge, saying, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” He never took his foot off the gas when it came to championing the view that Iraq was a lost cause.

Not once did he acknowledge the success of the surge. Not once did he speak of the strategic consequences that would flow from a United States defeat in Iraq. Not once did he note how Iran gains from our loss.

In fact, Candidate Obama continued to champion the view that Iraq was a lost cause even when the facts on the ground proved otherwise. His approach was poll-driven base politics, and it worked. He rode the wave of anti-war sentiment all the way to the Democratic nomination for president. During the general election, he had to be shamed into visiting Iraq, and after returning, he refused to acknowledge the turnaround.

Like most Americans, I hoped that after his election, the president would think in more strategic terms regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, and the influence of electoral politics would be diminished. In the early days of his administration, there seemed to be a willingness to embrace strategic thought and continue policies that were showing success. They would serve the nation well over time, even though they may have not been universally applauded on the left.

There have been some tactical successes by the Obama administration, and the president deserves credit. The decision to send troops into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, the use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, and the targeted killing of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, who had taken up arms with al-Qaeda, were the right calls. But by no means do these tactical successes trump the series of major strategic mistakes, the depth and breadth of which I fear will come back to haunt our nation for decades to come. Raw politics have dominated, and will continue to dominate, strategic decisions in the War on Terror — whether the issue is troop withdrawal from Iraq, accelerated withdrawal of surge forces from Afghanistan, or allowing the ACLU to hold hostage our detention and interrogation policies.