The specter of failed American foreign policy

UN_flags_access_copy1Over the last few days, the world has been wondering about the fate of some three hundred Nigerian girls, from the ages of 9 to 15, kidnapped from various schools to be sold as part of the human sex slave trade.  At the center of these kidnappings is Boko Haram, considered as a militant Islamic group by America’s European allies, is not on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. In our nation’s efforts to reach out to the Middle East, the Obama administration has never been willing to identify any militant Islamic movements as terrorist organizations and a threat to American security.


In the past, the world – our allies as well as our enemies – understood what the core of American foreign policy was. Since the Truman administration, the United States has had the same basic foreign policy platform since 1946.  The United States, in light of the expansion of communism in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, had adopted a policy to support economically and militarily, if needed, any peoples fighting against totalitarian regimes or outside influences such as from China or the Soviet Union.  We demonstrated our resolve in the end of that decade in Korea and Vietnam in Asia; within Europe, we stood to the side as a portion of the population of Hungary revolted against Soviet rule.   From the Johnson administration through the Carter years, we saw America enter a stage of weakened foreign policy to the extent that even our closest allies would withdraw from Vietnam, South and Central America became ripe for Soviet influence, and even within Africa, various administrations attempted levels of “dollar diplomacy” not been seen since the Taft administration.

From 1967 through 1980, American foreign policy was haphazard at best, disastrous at worst.  In attempts to keep Soviet expansion in check, many of the administrations, both Democrat and Republican, found it easier to overlook the human rights abuses of foreign governments just as long as they were able to have their support bought by the American dollar.  By the time of the Reagan administration, Central and South American relations was a mess, within the Middle East, the United States was paying a heavy economic price to maintain peace, and within Asia, frequent challenges between the Soviet Union, China, and the United States seemed to dominate the headlines.  Internationally, and with the outcome of the Vietnam War, the nations hostile to the United States had become emboldened and culminated with the kidnapping of the embassy staff in Iran towards the end of the Carter administration.  The failed rescue attempt of those hostages simply was a further indication that the United States was no longer speaking softly and carrying a big stick, but was simply yelling threats without any real means or desires to back its policies towards belligerent nations.

With the Reagan administration, a new round of military spending, strengthening of the NATO and SEATO alliances, as well as a Reagan corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was scoffed at by both nations hostile to our country as well as the New American Left.  During the Reagan administration, modernizing the American military was seen (correctly) as having a direct impact on the design of American foreign policy.  It could be argued that under Reagan, the United States was returning to the doctrine of started by Theodore Roosevelt – speak softly and carry a big stick. The increase in defense spending under Reagan was accentuated by shifts in the nation’s foreign policy that seemed to many to put the nation on the brink of a third world war in his determination to halt the advance of socialistic and communistic revolutions throughout the Latin American and African continents.  In the end, it was his foreign policy platform, with heavy defense spending that actually reduced the threat of war; in fact, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, some academics and scholars lamented the “end of history” as it was believed that the world would enter an unprecedented era of global peace.

Skip now to 2014 – we now know that armed struggles have continued.  The United States and a broad coalition of nations were involved in the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq from 1990 to 1991 and two new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attack of radical Islamic forces attacked on September 11, 2001. The Obama administration inherited not only these wars, but the remnants of uncompleted foreign policy goals from previous administrations that included an unraveling situation in sub-Saharan Africa as Islamic regimes began oppressing non-Muslim populations, a deteriorating situation in Eastern Europe, expanding power of China, and attempts by North Korea and Iran to expand their nuclear capabilities.  With the appointment of former First Lady Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the Obama administration began to shy away from nuclear deterrence and military strength as a part of its diplomatic strategy.  The world was assured that America was going to implement a new type of foreign policy that would reduce tensions around the world.  The Obama administration’s actions would allow the world to fall in love with America.

The problem is that the Obama administration did not understand that there are those out there that will not be contained using this new policy strategy.  There is no amount of economic or military aid that will cause these nations from seeking the destruction of the United States and its allies.  There are no negotiations that will work with those that do not see their nation bound to treaty obligations because of religious or cultural differences.  The Obama administration refuses to believe that there are those out there that simply hate America and want to kill Americans.  The Obama Administration refuses to see the dangers of a foreign policy unattached to both domestic and military policy. As a result, the legacy of the Obama administration’s foreign policy will be one of complete failure and will increase the long-term security risks to the United States. Already, the United States has failed in its treaty obligations to the Ukraine in providing military security in exchange for its complete nuclear disarmament. Nations like Japan and Israel are already beginning to make preparations for what they see as an American unwillingness to abide by defensive treaty obligations.

Traditionally, an attack on a consulate has always been seen as an act of war, much less the brutal murder of an ambassador.  Yet on Benghazi, the administration not only failed to manage it from a military standpoint, but even from any sort of modest foreign policy issue as well.  In a real way, the administration signaled to all in the State Department that they are expendable and that the administration will not provide security for embassy (or consulate) personnel.  There has been no one held accountable – not in our own government or the government of Libya.  There has been no action to hold those accountable for such a heinous act and no assistance from Libya in determining what faction, Islamic terrorist group, or nation to hold accountable.  I will never forget Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she screamed, “It’s four dead Americans. What difference, at this point, does it make?”  For the families, the friends, and the people of the United States, it does make a difference.

The most recent sign of the ineptness of the Obama administration’s foreign policy occurred this last week with Mrs. Obama’s Twitter posting, #bringbackourgirls as a response to what has happened to the young school girls in Nigeria.  While it is nice that the First Lady is aware of the plight, and as Hollywood goes haywire over her use of social media, what does this accomplish?  Does it further American foreign policy aims or is it simply lip service to pacify those who are more into social trends and fads rather than the realities of the world? Maybe the administration simply needs to vocalize its true attitudes of foreign affairs as did its first Secretary of State did… “there are 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped; what difference, at this point, does it make?” In the end, the world is a much more dangerous place without American dominance.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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