Before he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama won the peacenik vote. When he ran for president in 2008, he was the one aiming to “turn the page” on America’s failed foreign policy. He criticized the Iraq War as a distraction from the real business in Afghanistan. And yet, Obama is going to hand his successor more foreign policy disasters than he inherited.
That’s not stopping Obama from advertising his foreign policy legacy. He has defended his administration’s supposed philosophy of “Don’t do stupid sh–.” Who could disagree with “Don’t do stupid sh–“?
President Obama certainly inherited a mess. President George W. Bush’s surge in Iraq had left the United States an honorable-looking exit strategy, but Bush’s signature on a Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government had also guaranteed the departure of U.S. forces before real political reconciliation had happened in Iraq. This almost ensured Sunni disaffection from the Baghdad government, which fueled the rise of ISIS, which, in turn, forced Obama’s hand to return U.S. forces to Iraq.
But while the U.S. was on temporary holiday from Iraq, Obama chose to pursue his own surge strategy in Afghanistan, sending 30,000 more troops into what has been the longest military engagement in American history. Now Obama is bringing them out again as part of his plan to completely wind down the war by the end of his presidency. And yet Afghanistan looks almost no different than it did when Obama took office. The U.S. and the personnel it trained act as a kind of guard for the capital city of Kabul, but the Taliban is still able to fire rockets at parliament and disappear back into the countryside. The Taliban’s attacks still come in a long seasonal wave, and are returning again this year, like clockwork.