November 8, 2012
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
When President Obama gets back to the Oval Office, the challenges of foreign affairs will look pretty much the same as they did before the election. And while all presidents would like to shelve foreign policy to focus on “a little nation building right here home,” Mr. Obama well knows that the world can’t be put on hold. As long as the United States remains a leading economy with complex military, financial and geopolitical interests around the world, Washington cannot ignore the globe.
No doubt the White House will want to jump right in on taxes, deficits, jobs and economic growth—after all, that’s what the people reelected him to deal with. But foreign policy usually refuses to take a back seat. And there’s a lot going on overseas that will demand more than a little attention.
Middle East Muddle
There is no single Middle East problem. There is a plethora of problems that run from Iran through the deserts to Egypt and into North Africa. All signs indicate this part of the globe will host the world’s hottest hot spots in the months ahead.
Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, protests in the Gulf States, an increasingly unsteady Egypt, terrorists in the Sahel—these are all distinct problems, yet each has the potential to cascade throughout the region and beyond. The effects of a widening war in Syria, for example, could ripple as far South as Mali. If the administration tries to treat each of these without an eye on the other, running back and forth like a fireman—or, worse, a gawking bystander—it will be unable to stay ahead of the tsunami of change (or war) that is coming. The White House is going to have to come with a coordinated, integrated regional approach.
Asian High Anxiety
Since the president promised to pivot to Asia, the only change in the region has been a downturn in U.S. influence and prestige. The distractions in the Middle East have made a mockery of the notion that the United States ever truly could focus on one part of the world and put other areas of vital interest on the backburner.
Ever since the administration announced its pivot, China has done nothing but challenge it, flexing its military muscle and broadening its claims of sovereignty at sea. Looking at the administration’s plans to downsize the military, the Chinese have concluded that the Pentagon won’t have much left to pivot with—and if a crisis arises elsewhere, the United States will have to pull forces from the Pacific to respond. So far the pivot has all the credibility of a pirouette. The president will have to fix that.
There is more than enough evidence that the president’s counterterrorism strategy, though less than two years old, has come to the end of its life. That strategy focused on “decapitating” al Qaeda. It didn’t work because al Qaeda is really just a piece of a global Islamist insurgency. Unlike a drug cartel, it can’t be taken down by just taking out the leadership.
Unless the president changes course soon, terrorists will have more sanctuaries by 2016 than they had in 2010.
What happened at the U.S. consulate was a terrible, and perhaps unforgivable, tragedy. It was not, however, a foreign policy disaster.
But Benghazi could become one yet if the president doesn’t stop now and just come clean with the American people. Better to just come out with all the facts, take your licks, and move on than to let the issue dog and distract the White House for months to come.
Don’t forget that once al Qaeda tries a tactic, it always comes back to it again. There will be another embassy attack in America’s future. Let’s find and fix the gaps before the next one.
James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The National Interest.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute,
with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in
February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free
enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national
defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973