Judy Asks: Has Obama finally discovered foreign policy?

Judy Asks: Has Obama finally discovered foreign policy?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
17 September 2014
Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

From his 2009 inaugural address onward, U.S. President Barack Obama has talked about foreign policy. But he has consistently overestimated his ability to achieve his ends by rhetoric and underestimated the value of using overwhelming force against people who respect the sword more than the pen.

If the Islamic State threatens “American citizens, personnel, and facilities” in the Middle East and could pose a threat to the U.S. homeland, then why stress that the United States will not have combat forces in Iraq? Either the Islamic State is a real threat to the United States, in which case Obama should use any means necessary, or it is not, in which case listing the things that make the jihadists uniquely evil is an empty gesture.

The same applies to Ukraine. When Obama said in June that “the United States is absolutely committed to standing behind the Ukrainian people and their aspirations,” did his words mean anything? When he said in August that “a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming,” did he wonder why Russian President Vladimir Putin took the opposite view?

The problem is not that Obama has failed to discover foreign policy, but that he has failed to learn how to harness diplomacy and force together.