This post first appeared in the Welt, 5 March 2014
What particularly strikes the regular visitor to Washington, the "great world theatre" as Churchill called it, in the last phase of Obama's presidency is the confusion and even despair over the opaque foreign policy of the president. Much as his rhetoric and his will power in domestic policy is being recognized, he is generally been seen as lacking the talent to positively distinguish and assert himself in foreign policy. In almost all of my talks with recently retired but also still active higher state officials, a disappointment with Obama's foreign policy was palpable.Noticeable is his policy of withdrawal from the big trouble spots of the world at a time when the commitment of the still leading world power USA is urgently necessary.
Obama's overhasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Hagel's decision to reduce the army to a pre-World War level, the "jolt" of the defense and foreign policy towards East Asia, and most of all, the non-intervention in Syria have been an affront to old allies, and threaten to bring about changes on the diplomatic chess board to the detriment of Western allies.
In the Middle East where the situation deteriorates on a daily basis, allies such as the Saudis and the Emirates watch in discomfort as the USA curries favor with the Iranian arch-enemy and place their trust in it. There is a deafening silence over the Secretary of State Kerry's attempts to move Israelis and Palestinians towards a framework agreement. Only contradictory chunks of information reach the public.
As if the Syria crisis was not enough to confuse the political observer, the rebellion of the oppressed Ukrainians at a time when Obama draws on the close collaboration with Putin over Syria becomes a trial of strength for his foreign policy.He cannot, on the one hand, promote President Putin to his problem solver in the Middle East and, on the other hand, advocate freedom of the Ukrainians and their striving for closer ties with Europe.
Realpolitik must have its limits. What is at stake is Barack Obama's role as the leader of the free world, a title his predecessors in the White House claimed and thoroughly deserved.