Saturday, August 09, 2014

Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

Matthew Yglesias makes the case that Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

"In Ukraine, for example, Obama has not opted for the path of maximum punishment for Russia. He has opted instead for the path of punishing Russia as hard as possible at minimum cost to the United States. Russians are paying a higher price for the conflict than are Europeans, and Americans are paying a lower price still. Putin hasn't had a change of heart, but Ukrainian forces are steadily advancing on rebel-held territory and Russia is becoming more and more of a pariah. Steady gains at minimal cost don't make for great speeches, but they do put American influence on a sustainable basis."

"Israel is more secure than ever. Not just beneath its Iron Dome but because Hamas has been cut off from Iranian patronage, and Hezbollah is too busy fighting the Assad regime's enemies in Syria to open a northern front against the Jewish State. The Syrian civil war itself is a humanitarian disaster. But in a war between a vicious government and a rebel cause full of its own vicious jihadis, a brutal stalemate that sucks up resources is an acceptable outcome for the United States. The damage of the war, though real, has little direct impact on America and the costs of attempting to dive in and resolve the situation would have been prohibitive."

"In the Persian Gulf, key US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are perfectly secure from external aggression, pumping oil in peace even as the progress of solar power and fracking reduces our long-term dependence on these questionable regimes."

"The Kurdistan regional government is friendly to the United States, is viewed as legitimate by the Kurdish population, and has demonstrated considerable fighting skill in the past. A relatively small amount of American military assistance should be able to secure their continued autonomy, a useful and humane objective that is achievable at low cost. For the Iraqi government to entirely reconquer its lost Sunni hinterland, by contrast, would be considerably more difficult. It is also not entirely clear what the point would be, in terms of concrete American interests. It's far from obvious that a strong unitary Iraqi state is in the interests of the United States or reflects the desire of the Iraqi people."

"As in Syria, stalemate between Sunni-held and Shiite-held territories could be ugly — but an acceptable form of ugly. Don't expect to hear it in a Rose Garden speech, but the main oil fields are down south near Basra in firmly government-held territory."

"Meanwhile, democracy marches on. The Arab Spring has mostly been a disappointment, but the new regime in Tunisia is real enough. Indonesia is poised for its first peaceful, orderly, transition of power to an opposition presidential candidate. China is friendless in East Asia. 'We'll do what we can, when we can do something useful on the cheap' doesn't quite have the glorious ring of JFK's vow to 'pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.' But it does have the advantage of being a sustainable, sensible approach to 21st century world affairs."

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