President Obama’s “embraceable you” foreign policy outreach program towards nations unfriendly to the U.S. has been a disaster. If that was not clear earlier, developments in Syria during these past few weeks should make it abundantly clear.
A master of U.S. foreign policy Obama is not. Three nations he courted over the past several years with his outreach effort—believing, in return, they would adopt a more cooperative spirit—have turned on him, collectively uniting on Syria’s battlefield to undermine his stated policy there.
Let us begin with Russia.
In early 2009, following a falling out of U.S.-Russian relations after Moscow invaded Georgia, Obama announced an effort to “reset” them. Such an effort was doomed from the outset as a failed symbolic “reset” gesture proved embarrassing.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—meeting her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva—presented him with a gift. She handed him a small box inside of which was a red button with the Russian word “peregruzka” printed on it. As a puzzled Lavrov examined the button, Clinton explained “we want to reset our relationship” by working together. Laughingly, Clinton added, “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Lavrov immediately responded, “You got it wrong. It should be ‘perezagruzka’ (the Russian word for ‘reset’). This says ‘peregruzka’ which means ‘overcharged.’”
While Obama continued to deal with Russia as if the relationship had been reset, it has been clear Russia’s Vladimir Putin holds the President and his administration in total disdain. This lack of respect for the leader of the Free World was evident as Putin made no effort last month to advise the U.S. in advance Russia was establishing a forward air operating base in Syria. Weak U.S. leadership has given Putin free reign to act independently. We can expect to see him continue to take advantage of Obama for his remaining 15 months in office.
Another recipient of Obama’s foreign policy largesse is Iran. This administration became Tehran’s most ardent defender of its rogue activities as it negotiated the most one-sided agreement in modern history—negotiations initially intended to end Tehran’s nuclear program, but ultimately opening the door for Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. This result was driven by Obama’s belief the mullahs would change their behavior once convinced the U.S. engaged them as equals.
And just what has Obama’s “can’t-we-all-just-get-along” foreign policy approach towards Iran gotten us?
On October 13th, three days before Iran’s parliament approved the nuclear deal, Tehran—demonstrating its disdain for the U.S. and other nations seeking to control its military capabilities—conducted a nuclear-capable ballistic missile test. This test was undertaken in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 as well as the nuclear deal signed October 13th.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan made clear his country’s intentions, saying, “We won’t seek permission from anyone to increase our defense power and our missile capabilities.” Downplaying the missile’s capability to carry a nuclear warhead, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini claimed Tehran does not seek a nuclear weapon capability as such weapons of mass destruction are forbidden under Islam. A naïve Obama Administration seems to accept this assertion.
Additionally, in a blatant demonstration that President Obama’s “kinder, gentler” foreign policy towards Iran has failed, the mullahs have just sent a 1500-man ground force into Syria to operate under the protection of the Russian air force. In doing so, the Iranians and Russians share a common goal—propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by defeating the U.S.-supported rebel forces fighting him.
There is one more country Obama had courted but failed to seduce which has now joined the Russians and Iranians in Syria as well, providing yet another example of how his outreach foreign policy has been an immense failure.
Last December, Obama announced his decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, without congressional approval. The President justified this new foreign policy initiative by saying, “Today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world.”
It has been confirmed that, earlier this month, two Russian cargo planes landed at Syria’s Damascus airport to unload Cuban troops. These troops were met by General Leopoldo Cintra Frias—head of Cuba’s armed forces—who proceeded to brief them on their mission there—i.e., to defeat the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. The Cuban government has, of course, denied this report.
For almost seven years, Obama has engaged in a disturbing policy of embracing our enemies at the cost of distancing our friends. This outreach has included Russia, Iran and Cuba—all in a foolish effort seeking to court them by embracing a foreign policy that endangers U.S. national security interests. It has proven disastrous.
Three countries Obama embraced have now fielded forces in Syria with a battlefield mission directly opposed to his own goals there. The folly of his foreign policy has finally come home to roost.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.