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Lessons Learned

Iraq to Crimea: Obama’s Foreign Policy and Lessons Learned

It is easy to find flaws in Obama’s foreign policy. The growing list of drone strikes is easily problematic. His foreign and domestic spying apparatus revealed by Edward Snowden was a dazzling disgrace.  Moreover, Obama’s over assuming comment, ”Assad has got to go”, did not help the growing Syrian refugee crisis. However, if one evaluates Obama over the totality of his tenure, Obama demonstrates a hidden and unique quality. The changes that Obama made in American foreign policy indicate he continues to learn from Bush’s mistakes. While Obama’s mistakes are important to see, the things he gets right are likely to leave his legacy. His learning from Bush’s mistakes is where he shines.

When President Obama was elected in 2008, he inherited a foreign policy debacle that is unmatched by any other moment in American history.  Most people need little reminding of America’s fool hearted “Global War on Terror” coupled with the bumbling of Iraq’s

Regardless, the US created the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and could not simply walk away. America’s foreign policy during the Bush years gave the new president Obama these complex sets of problems, and these sets of problems existed without solutions.  The new president needed to save America’s political stature, while making sure Iraq 

and Afghanistan did not fall into a violent abyss.Weapons of Mass destruction.  When Obama took over from George Bush; America’s public image was resting over a smelly bead of foul milk. 

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Changing Bush’s Image by Concluding the Bush War’s

In 2008, Iraq and Afghanistan were in flames.  Despite the Bush Administrations grand ideals of safe and stable democratic states, the US showed little ability to transform these two countries. Obama’s best hope was to exit Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan, and then follow suit and leave Afghanistan.

Obama’s conclusions about the Iraq and Afghanistan were sound and logical.  He saw the Bush wars emerge in their embryonic stages, and he saw the wars to their conclusions.  In no short order, this experience gave the President some political lessons. Repeating Bush’s mistakes was not an option for Obama. America could not afford the gluttonous ambitions of the neophytes. In addition, the world could not afford another decade of cavaliering imperial powers.

Obama needed to capture a strong posture without a provocation. After Obama took office, his overall demeanour was humble, apologetic and showed the world that America can change. As Obama slowly back stepped from Afghanistan, Obama’s single greatest foreign policy lessons successfully emerge in Syria.

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Fumbling yet Successful Diplomacy

After Iraq and Afghanistan, the Syrian Civil war stormed the world stage.  Thousands of Syrian’s were dying, and a corrupt regime harboured instability for the Middle East. Former Bush Administration officials appeared all over the media headlines, haranguing for war, yet with Iraq and Afghanistan in the background President Obama saw the problem as untenable. Obama’s decision to avoid a military intervention demonstrates Obama possessed sensibilities, caution, and jurisprudence.

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America’s lack of intervention did allow the conflict to endure, but the lack of intervention allowed for two more events to unfold.  Firstly, by US averting military intervention, tensions amongst key states in the region were not exasperated. The lack of foreign military prevents Iranian and Saudi tensions from erupting, and Obama’s decision assist in taming the ongoing provocations between NATO and Russia.

Secondly, with the absence of foreign troops, diplomacy led the way in extricating Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Despite the human rights tribulations, and the refugee crisis n the surrounding region, Obama has learned from the mistakes of Bush, and in this case, he got it right. Leaving Syrians to handle Syria is far better than the alternative options.

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Posturing over Provocation in Crimea

Following the Syrian Civil War, possibilities of Russia’s annexation over Crimea presents Obama with his second choice for military interventions.  As the crisis emerges in Ukraine, the drumbeats of war continue to clamor. Former Bush administration officials spilled militaristic jingoisms across the media headlines demanding the presence of US troops to Ukraine. Former Bush staffers were calling Russia’s annexation, “The Cold War part II”.  However, Obama did not loose a step in back-pedalling from the Bush administrations approach.  Like in Syria, Obama chose small sanctions while the President postured against the Russian Federation without provoking war. This kind of political balance to Putin’s Russia pushing into Eastern Europe continues to change America’s tone in the world.

President Obama has kept steadfast on backing down from military interventions. America has averted the war in Syria, and has sidestepped the provocation in Ukraine. Obama led America out of Iraq, and he continues his back stepping from Afghanistan.  Obama is no saint, but his main strengths is changing American foreign policy away from the Bush years, and giving a new direction. Obama has many problems, but backstopping from military intervention is not one of them.

Jake Diliberto is a Political Scientist, Ph D. candidate at the University of Birmingham, resident scholar on US National Security & research fellow at the Centre for International Policy. Specialised in Religious Conflict and Guerrilla Warfare. He served as a US marine in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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