Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 on the promise that he would end America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and change the tone of American foreign policy. He was motivated by a belief that Iraq was misguided and that the country was weary of war. In addition, many Americans believed that the perception of American belligerence in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, contributed to insecurity around the world. Unfortunately, six years later, the world is far more fractured and the president’s approach to foreign policy is open to criticism.
The most obvious example of this criticism in the past week was “The Letter” signed by 47 Senate Republicans to the leaders of Iran, warning them that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program would be merely an executive agreement and may be revoked by the next president or modified by future Congresses. The Constitutional complexities of the argument aside, the Senate Republicans missed badly on this one—and not just because so many Americans rightfully see The Letter as undermining the President in the midst of complex and serious negotiations with a historic adversary.
The issue in the Iran negotiations is how best to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Critics of the negotiations argue that Iran cannot be trusted to keep its word. The Obama administration maintains any agreement will not be based on trust—it will depend upon verification. It’s the right approach: a negotiated settlement with Iran would contain their nuclear ambitions, impose an intrusive verification regime, all the while retaining for the United States and its allies the ability to impose the violent sanction of force should Iran fail to meet its obligations. An agreement would buy time for other forces to reshape Iranian politics—and that’s a wise long-term strategy.
Events in Eastern Europe, however, have to shape American policymakers views of potential conflicts in other regions. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—former Soviet republics who are now NATO’s eastern-most members—are nervous. They know they can’t trust Putin’s Russia, but they are uncertain, too, of the strength of the western alliance’s commitment to their defense. So in Vilnius—where memories of Lithuania’s fate in the 20th century remain strong—parents make plans for their children in the event of war, even as the government issues advice to citizens about what to do should war come to their neighborhoods.
The candidate who ran to end wars, governs as president in a period of incredible insecurity from Eastern Europe to the Middle East—and we haven’t even touched on the South China Sea. That level of insecurity requires a prudence in the application of military power not familiar to a lot of Americans in the post-9/11 era. Airstrikes—war—to keep Iran from going nuclear are still an option regardless of what the president’s critics claim. But another war in the Middle East will gravely limit America’s and NATO’s options in Eastern Europe.
Preparing for War in Lithuania | Foreign Affairs
Obama pressed on many fronts to arm Ukraine | POLITICO