President Obama is a man who has constantly voted present over the course of his career. He did it in the State Senate of Illinois more than virtually anyone else; in the Senate, he simply didn’t vote that often. As President, he’s been absent on issues ranging from the deficit to the Arab Spring.
President Obama is also a man who loves unity. The earliest articles describing him talk about how he always wanted to get everyone together in a room and forge unanimity, with himself at the head. He was a “consensus builder.”
These dual instincts – the instinct to create unanimity and the instinct to fade into the wallpaper – define Obama’s foreign policy in Afghanistan. He has always split the baby. When his commanders wanted 50,000 additional troops in Afghanistan without a timetable, Obama went with 30,000 and a timetable. When the military wanted the ability to engage in targeted hits on bad guys, Obama settled for drone attacks. Even when it came to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama couldn’t decide whether he had given the troops a kill mission or a capture mission.
On a grander scale, Obama’s policy toward the Muslim world has been just as schizophrenic. He wants to be seen as a hawk, and so has (to his credit) authorized drone strikes on evil scum of the earth like Anwar Al-Awlaqi. That boosts his hit count. But he also apologizes whenever possible for American interventionism and praises to the skies any Arab Spring movement that is anti-American in the Middle East (see Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, for starters).
Even when it comes to the border, Obama has attempted to play it down the middle. He has increased the number of deportations in border states so he can play border hawk, but he’s sued Arizona to prevent them from implementing a law that would crack down on illegal immigration, so he can appease the Latino voter base.
Obama’s going to try to play his split-the-baby foreign policy technique as Solomon-esque: it’s not all appeasement (“Bin Laden! Gutsy call!”), but it’s not all militarism (apologizing for the burning of Korans even as Afghans murder American troops in response). Everybody should go home happy!
Instead, nobody’s going home happy. Solomon didn’t actually split the baby, as you’ll recall – he used that as a ploy to intuit which parent actually sired the child at issue. He was attempting to discern right from wrong, and he accomplished that goal. Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t know right from wrong and actually splits the baby. When you do that, you end up with a dead baby.
Afghanistan is a dead baby. By failing to keep enough troops in Afghanistan long enough without a discernible goal – by apologizing to terrorists without demanding from the Afghan government that they stop such terrorism – Obama has emboldened the terrorists. What’s emboldened them even more is their newfound belief that the might of the U.S. military will only be used sparingly. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Likewise on the Arab Spring. Apparently, we’ll intervene only to depose U.S. allies but not to depose U.S. enemies; we won’t find out who stands behind the rebellions in the various countries to back the side that best represents U.S. interests. On Israel, we’ll pretend friendship while reaching out to Hamas. On Iran, we’ll engage in half-hearted sanctions while trying to dissuade Israel from taking requisite military action.
America is in retreat all over the world – but Obama has executed his CYA foreign policy to perfection. He can point to Bin Laden, to drones, to kill count, and say he’s a hawk; he can point to his appeasement and say he’s a dove. But as LBJ found out in Vietnam, a halfway policy is no winner. Obama’s Afghanistan policy is no winner. And Americans hate losers, whether they be doves or hawks.