Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
The New York Times profile of Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy guru, had plenty of shocking moments from his attempt to cover up Iran’s abduction of US sailors to his blatant gloating over the stupidity of the journalists whom he manipulated into spreading his lies in support of the Iran deal.
But the larger revelation is also simpler. Ben Rhodes knows next to nothing about foreign policy. He has no idea whether Iran will get nukes and couldn’t care less whether it’s moderate or not. He’s a failed fiction writer whose goal is “radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East in order to make the prospect of American involvement in the region’s future wars a lot less likely”.
That’s another way of describing a foreign policy built on isolationism.
Obama’s interviews are liberally spiced with contempt for the Europeans, whose foreign policy he adopted, and even former Islamist allies like Turkey are being treated with disdain. He despises both traditional US allies such as the UK and Israel, but he also has little use for the enemies, such as Russia and the Sunni Islamists, whom he tried to court. About the only enemy nation he still likes is Iran.
The first wave of Democratic backlash to the Iraq War was to champion diplomacy over military intervention. But diplomacy without intervention proved toothless. All that’s left now is a warped isolationism in which the US still pays the bills, signs all sorts of meaningless international accords that compromise our interests, but completely abandons its leadership role as a world power.
Rhodes sneers at the reporters whom he manipulated as knowing nothing. And he’s right. But he also doesn’t know anything. The condition is typical of an American left which has no foreign policy. It only has an anti-American domestic policy which it projects internationally without regard to its relevance.
The Iran deal had to happen to defeat “neo-conservatives”, the “war lobby” and whatever other leftist boogeyman was lurking around the premises. The men and women doing the defeating, like Rhodes, had zero interest in what was actually happening in Iran or what its leaders might do with nuclear weapons. They would tell any lie to help sell the deal because they were fighting a domestic battle of narratives. Iran wasn’t a real place. It was a fictional counter in a domestic ideological battle.
This problem did not begin yesterday.
Senator Ted Kennedy’s infamous letter to the Soviet leadership was seen as treasonous. But as a practical matter it revealed that an aspiring president had no interest in the USSR except to use it in a domestic battle against Reagan. Democrats had similarly supported and then turned against the Iraq War over domestic politics. Not only had they backed the removal of Saddam Hussein in the past, but Obama’s regime change in Libya showed that they did not believe any of their own critiques of regime change or unilateral intervention. Their foreign policy was based entirely on a domestic agenda.
Earlier generations of Democrats did have a comprehensive foreign policy based on ideas. It might be wrong, but it did exist. The Clinton-Kerry generation was very interested in talking about foreign policy, but viewed it purely in terms of opposing the Vietnam War as a critique of American power.
They had no other ideas to offer and it showed.
Without the Cold War, the Clinton era reduced foreign policy to multilateral diplomacy that existed to resolve conflicts and prevent genocide. But diplomacy proved useless in Rwanda and Bosnia. So Clinton ignored the former and used ruthless force casually for the latter. Meanwhile his foreign policy couldn’t process the rise of Al Qaeda and the growing threat of Islamic terrorism which led inevitably to 9⁄11.
Hillary Clinton is offering up a freezer fresh version of the same thing. The policies that failed her badly in Syria, Libya and across the Middle East are the only foreign policy offerings that she has for sale.
Bill Clinton had no foreign policy. Like Obama, he viewed foreign policy in terms of his domestic conflicts with Republicans. He tried to engage diplomatically while retreating militarily. His botched intervention in Yugoslavia had strong similarities to Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya.
And a Clinton was behind both.
Hillary Clinton took the Secretary of State position to build up credibility for a presidential run. The invasion of Libya was a platform to take her to the White House. Libya did not matter to her. While the State Department blew through fortunes to finance her self-promotion, the Benghazi mission lacked basic security. Even the Jihadists who were hired on to provide security weren’t getting paid.
And that led to the murder of four Americans.
It’s a short distance from Ted Kennedy trying to figure out how he could use Soviet officials to undermine Reagan and become president to Hillary Clinton seeing regime change in Libya as a campaign commercial right down to the punchy media-friendly slogan, “We came, We saw, He died.”
Democratic foreign policy is animated by political careerism and the conviction that American power is the problem. Beyond that lies a deep and abiding ignorance of the actual conflicts and issues abroad.
The left’s reflexive anti-Americanism makes it easy to be ignorant while appearing knowledgeable. It allows the conflation of domestic policy critiques with foreign policy by blaming America for everything. Anything that doesn’t fit into the neat anti-American box can be waved away with some clichés about the importance of global communication, global poverty, trade policies, global warming and reform.
Democrats didn’t have to understand Iraq. They just had to know it was Bush’s fault. First it was Bush I’s fault for not removing Saddam Hussein, as Democrats and the media instead he should have. Then it was Bush II’s fault for removing Saddam, which Democrats and the media had now decided he shouldn’t have. But blaming Bush I and II didn’t actually teach them anything about Iraq. And so they had no idea what to do about it.
Bill Clinton ricocheted from bombing Iraq to trying to trying to ignore it. Obama followed the same course, first trying to ignore it and then bombing it. Neither of them understood anything about Iraq. While Obama still boasts of having gotten Iraq right, that’s because no one reminds him that back in the Senate he was insisting that Iraqis would achieve a political solution once American soldiers had left.
The political solution they achieved was a bloody civil war culminating in ISIS.
But Obama’s understanding of Iraq was limited to blaming America for its problems. He didn’t know anything else and he didn’t feel that he had to.
The rise of ISIS happened because Democrats didn’t feel they had to know anything about Iraq except that it was Bush’s fault. When Bush tried to get Assad to cut off the flow of Al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq, leading Democrats, including Pelosi and Kerry, rushed to support Assad against President Bush.
That flow of terrorists from Syria into Iraq eventually became the basis for ISIS.
It’s no wonder that Obama has never been able to come up with a working plan for Syria. Blaming Bush is not a plan. And it’s a particularly bad plan in this case.
Anti-Americanism, like most prejudices, is a license for ignorance. By embracing a prejudice against their own country, Democrats have lost any skill at foreign policy that they once had. Instead of learning anything about the world, they resort to the easy answer of turning away from the confusing problems of other countries to blame them all on us. Anti-Americanism is the only foreign policy that they need.
Anti-Americanism is the foreign policy of fools. It’s not smart power. It’s ignorance and prejudice with a dictionary.