Military Analyst: Obama’s Foreign Policy Initiatives Have 'All Failed'

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Military analyst Andrew Bacevich says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's replacement won't matter much because the clock is running out on President Barack Obama's tenure and the conflict in the Middle East will slog on.

Bacevich says even more importantly, there's no will in Washington to change, so the United States' "futile mission" in the Middle East against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will drag on.

Bacevich tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson that Obama’s major foreign policy initiatives have now all failed. He cites the president's 2009 speech in Cairo about "the opening of a new chapter in relations between the United States and the Islamic world," the reset with Russia, bringing the Iraq War to a responsible end and winning in Afghanistan.

“What I see is an administration that is content to manage the quagmire that we’ve managed to get ourselves into,” Bacevich said.

There are reports that President Obama will tap a long-time Pentagon adviser, Ashton Carter, to succeed Hagel, who served less than two years in the post.

Interview Highlights: Andrew Bacevich

On Obama’s foreign policy

“I wonder if this president is interested in new ideas. Arguably, his major foreign policy initiatives have now all failed. The opening to Islamic world, symbolized by the Cairo speech, the reset with Russia, the promise to bring Iraq to a responsible end and winning in Afghanistan. I see little evidence in the last years of his presidency Mr. Obama wants to begin anew and wants to consider a radical course change. What I see is an administration that is content to manage the quagmire that we’ve managed to get our self into. It’s not his fault that we’ve got into the quagmire, he and several of his predecessors. I think we’re kinda stuck. I don’t think he sees a way out.”

On Iraq and ISIS

“My guess is that he doesn’t want part of his legacy to be a complete renewal of the American effort to pacify Iraq, hence his repeated refrain of ‘no boots on the ground.’ On the other hand the president doesn’t want to see ISIS triumph and destroy the current Iraqi regime and make something of this so called caliphate. What the president is trying to do is to figure what is the minimum amount of force that can be committed to — if not defeat, at least prevent ISIS from achieving its maximalist objectives. Right now the bet is that air-power with a substantial advisory effort might do the trick. There are many people who are skeptical about that. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the chief of staff has indicated that he himself — that he is one of the skeptics and as indicated that from his professional military prospective, a greater U.S. ground presence may be required but the White House is certainly not eager at this point to have to take on that issue and make any further decisions.”

On dropping oil prices and the effect on foreign relations

“I think what should cause us to reevaluate the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf is not the price of oil but rather the availability of oil and natural gas in North America. Going back to the beginning of this misadventure in 1980, when Jimmy Carter promulgated the Carter doctrine — the reigning assumption is that somehow or other the well-being of the United States of America is tied to the Persian Gulf. Increasingly, it seems to me that’s not true. Now it is true that the well-being of some of our friends and allies is still tied to the Persian Gulf. But I’m not persuaded that somehow the United States should shoulder the burden of policing a part of the world if in fact our direct vital interests are no longer involved there.”


  • Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel and professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University's Pardee School of Global Studies.

This segment aired on December 3, 2014.


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