Thursday, May 29, 2014

Obama’s leadership is right for today

By Fareed Zakaria, WashPost, Thursday, May 29, 5:31 PM

“Because of his unsure and indecisive leadership in the field of foreign policy, questions are being raised on all sides,” the writer declared, adding that the administration was “plagued by a Hamlet-like psychosis which seems to paralyze it every time decisive action is required.” Is the writer one of the many recent critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy? Actually, it’s Richard Nixon, writing in 1961 about President John F. Kennedy. Criticizing presidents for weakness is a standard practice in Washington because the world is a messy place and, when bad things happen, Washington can be blamed for them. But to determine what the United States — and Obama — should be doing, we have to first understand the nature of the world and the dangers within it.

From 1947 until 1990, the United States faced a mortal threat, an enemy that was strategic, political, military and ideological. Washington had to keep together an alliance that faced up to the foe and persuaded countries in the middle not to give in. This meant that concerns about resolve and credibility were paramount. In this context, presidents had to continually reassure allies. This is why Dean Acheson is said to have remarked in exasperation about Europe’s persistent doubts about America’s resolve, “NATO is an alliance, not a psychiatrist’s couch!”

But the world today looks very different — far more peaceful and stable than at any point in decades and, by some measures, centuries. The United States faces no enemy anywhere on the scale of Soviet Russia. Its military spending is about that of the next 14 countries combined, most of which are treaty allies of Washington. The number of democracies around the world has grown by more than 50 percent in the past quarter-century. The countries that recently have been aggressive or acted as Washington’s adversaries are getting significant pushback. Russia has alienated Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Western Europe with its recent aggression, for which the short-term costs have grown and the long-term costs — energy diversification in Europe — have only begun to build. China has scared and angered almost all of its maritime neighbors, with each clamoring for greater U.S. involvement in Asia. Even a regional foe such as Iran has found that the costs of its aggressive foreign policy have mounted. In 2006, Iran’s favorability rating in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia was in the 75 percent to 85 percent range, according to Zogby Research. By 2012, it had fallen to about 30 percent.

In this context, what is needed from Washington is not a heroic exertion of American military power but rather a sustained effort to engage with allies, isolate enemies, support free markets and democratic values and push these positive trends forward. The Obama administration is, in fact, deeply internationalist — building on alliances in Europe and Asia, working with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations, isolating adversaries and strengthening the global order that has proved so beneficial to the United States and the world since 1945.

(More here.)

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