2015 was a bad foreign policy year for America. Our enemies in Tehran won a pathway to prosperity and additional regional influence without losing the ability to obtain nuclear weapons within 10 to 15 years, or sooner if they choose. Our enemy in Moscow enjoyed an enormous expansion of his influence in the Middle East and continues to menace U.S. allies in Europe.
Our enemy in Damascus, propped up by Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, is probably the comeback world player of the year, now that he’s winning in the battlefield and the U.S. has signaled that his removal from power is no longer an objective. Moreover, Assad’s resurgence has not coincided with substantial losses for ISIS in Syria. Indeed, the limited setbacks ISIS experienced this year within its “caliphate” were probably offset by gains elsewhere, plus success in exporting terror to the West.
A bad foreign policy year for America isn’t necessarily a bad year for President Obama, though. He seems to be okay or better with Iranian prosperity and regional dominance, and indifferent to the successes of Putin and Assad. Inject him with truth serum and the president would probably say that his biggest foreign policy setback of the year was the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu.
What does 2016 have in store for U.S. foreign policy. More of the same but with increased success in combating ISIS, I would have guessed.
However, Lee Smith predicts that “next year will be worse.” He writes:
What will make the next year especially dangerous is the White House itself. Obama is eager to wrap everything up before he leaves office, and John Kerry no doubt clings to the hope that Syrian peace talks could bring him the Nobel Peace Prize he thought he earned with the Iran deal. The administration is in a hurry, and the only way it sees forward is in caving to Iranian and Russian demands—above all, the demand that Assad stay in power. Indeed, as Kerry made clear two weeks ago, the White House has finally come clean and admitted it’s no longer interested in deposing Assad, if it ever was.
What are the likely consequences?
To begin with, the only opposition groups that can agree to a political process in which Assad is not removed are those that are in fact or in effect pro-Assad. All others will have to be excluded from peace talks, and some will be labeled terrorists, like Jaish al-Islam, one of the most effective anti-Assad units, whose leader Zahran Alloush was recently killed in a Russian airstrike. This drove home the fact that Putin’s campaign was never about fighting ISIS—rather, it was about defending Assad (and securing Moscow’s Syrian bases).
Therefore, in promoting a peace process that protects Assad, the White House is giving political and diplomatic cover to Moscow and Tehran. John Kerry will be acting as Putin’s enforcer, telling America’s traditional regional allies that the war against Assad is over and it’s time to give up.
However — and I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad — our allies are unlikely to listen to the lame duck Secretary:
Saudi Arabia can ill afford an Iranian victory of that magnitude, and it would be an even worse outcome for Turkey. Ankara is hosting millions of refugees who will never return to Syria so long as the regime that butchered their family and friends is still in power. It’s a major domestic issue for the Turks, and with three unfriendly powers on its border—Russia, Iran, and Assad—the Syrian war is a national security matter.
Therefore, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes it is vital to keep open his supply lines to anti-Assad groups, even as Putin’s forces are campaigning to close them down. In other words, Kerry’s “peace process” is driving a NATO member toward crisis, and perhaps a shooting war with Russia.
Israel may soon find itself in a similarly dangerous situation. Yes, even with Russian troops present in Syria, Jerusalem has continued to attack arms convoys heading across Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iranian assets inside Syria, like Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar. However, it’s not clear how long this state of affairs can last, or if the Iranians will press their Russian partners to clarify whose side they’re on.
It has long seemed clear that the primary damage Obama would be able to inflict on America during his second term would be in the realm of foreign policy (although Obama is inflicting more damage than I expected domestically, and if Republicans cooperate will inflict even more through the mass release of drug dealers from prison). If Smith is right, 2016 will be the apotheosis of Obama’s damage to the United States in the world.