Questions and Challenges for Obama on Foreign Policy

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Here are a few of the questions I'd like to see President Obama asked in tonight's debate (from my Bloomberg View column; I'll post some questions for Romney later):

The U.S. successfully contained the Soviet Union, which possessed a nuclear arsenal sufficient to kill all U.S. citizens. A nuclear Iran would not have that capacity. Why have you ruled out containment and threatened to use military force to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?

Neither the Israeli prime minister nor the Palestinian president trusts you to be an effective broker in what is now a comatose Middle East peace process. How did this come to pass?

Why have you not visited Israel once in four years as president?

Why do you spend so little time building friendships with foreign leaders, especially leaders of allied countries?

You've promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2014. What would you do if U.S. intelligence informed you at the end of 2014 that the Taliban was poised to capture Kabul and once again assert control over most of Afghanistan?

Drone strikes you've ordered against targets in Pakistan have killed, by some estimates, several hundred innocent civilians, including many children. Is this a moral strategy to defeat terrorists?

I would also point you to this essay by Walter Russell Mead on what he calls "The Great Extrication," the effort by the president to lower America's profile, and reduce its responsibilities, in the Middle East. It ain't easy, as Walter notes (and as I noted in this essay a couple of weeks ago):

The first problem, and it is a big one, is that the Great Extrication doesn't seem to be working. Part of this is Iran; getting a nuclear deal with the mullahs has always been critical to Obama's grand design, but the mullahs so far have been unresponsive. Vital allies in the region and beyond are terrified by Iran's nuclear ambitions. In order to gain time for his diplomatic strategy to work, President Obama has had to issue an increasingly unambiguous commitments to take military action against Iran's nuclear drive if the Iranians don't negotiate an agreement. As the clock runs down, the likelihood of yet another major Middle Eastern conflict involving American forces looms much larger; it is hard to base your policy on withdrawing from a region in which you seem increasingly committed to a dangerous and unpredictable war.

Beyond that, the assassination of Osama bin Laden is looking less like VQ Day (Victory over al-Qaeda) as time goes by. The brand survived the founder, and while the specific organizational apparatus around the man who inspired the 9/11 attacks has been severely degraded, the collection of loosely organized affiliates and copy-cats who embrace the al-Qaeda name and at least some of its ambitions and tactics is a growing not a shrinking concern. The murder of the four Americans in Benghazi poses a political problem for the administration partly because it undercuts the idea that al-Qaeda, as former Vice President Cheney might have put it, is in its death throes and ironically, the death of bin Laden set the stage for a return to the global war on terror approach the administration hoped to bury.

It is far from clear that the President's planned withdrawal from Afghanistan will pass off without serious problems, and it is abundantly clear that the strategy of reconciling the Islamic world to the United States by pressuring the Israelis to make major concessions to the Palestinians blew up in the President's face.

But there's more. The Arab Spring has sucked the Obama administration back into the quagmires it was hoping to leave. In Libya, the administration launched its own war for regime change; the chaotic and bloody international mess that resulted--clearly never envisioned by the White House idealists who with Rumsfeldian confidence thought taking Qaddafi out would be a consequence-free "cakewalk"--has once again put the United States in the position of nation building in an anarchic and violent Arab land.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/10/questions-and-challenges-for-obama-on-foreign-policy/263919/