“To give meaning to the factual raw material of foreign policy, we must approach political reality with a kind of rational outline, a map that suggests to us the possible meanings of foreign policy. In other words, we put ourselves in the position of a statesman who must meet a certain problem of foreign policy under certain circumstances, and we ask ourselves what the rational alternatives are from which a statesman may choose. [...] It is the testing of this rational hypothesis against the actual facts and their consequences that gives theoretical meaning to the facts of international politics.” – Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations
Barack Obama: A Rational Actor
During the Cold War, intelligence agents adopted Morgenthau’s method of using the rational actor assumption to decypher the meaning of Soviet apparatchik’s statements and actions. Disturbingly, we can apply the same method to fill in our gaps in knowledge about the stubbornly shadowy figure of Barack Obama, who is paradoxically the most scrutinized person in the world as President of the United States.
While many Americans are struggling to synthesize a complete picture of the president’s policy dispositions, due in part to glossy disinformation and deliberate withholding of information about the president’s radical past by the mainstream media, analysts can find the missing information to complete the picture about our president in his foreign policy.
It has been my contention during the president’s administration that the man can be understood through the prism of Primat der Innenpolitik or “the primacy of the domestic.” Simply put, this method of foreign policy explanation emphasizes the domestic political goals of the statesman or organization in question. We can infer certain broad themes about Obama’s domestic political goals by taking a systematic look at his foreign policy support for certain regimes, actors, policies and actions abroad. Just as important, we should likewise examine his non-support. If an ideologically consistent theme between his domestic policy and foreign policy crystallizes, we may adduce that the president has a certain disposition towards certain political systems and a hostility or aversion towards others.
This is more than a futile academic exercise. While the President of the United States has broad powers under the U.S. Constitution, he is far more limited in his ability to wield power domestically than internationally. We can get a sense of Obama’s end game for America by observing his behavior towards regimes and actors abroad. This will clue voters in to just how moderate or radical President Obama truly is.
Interpreting Obama’s Foreign Policy
If a foreign policy analyst were to lay a grid over the world and highlight countries successively according to a general classification scheme of socialist, Islamist, (petro-)dictatorship, or liberal democracy, one would find certain broad patterns emerging under the Obama administration. First, there is a tendency to favor socialist countries (including social democracies) over liberal democracies. Second, there is a tendency to favor Islamist movements over more secular dictators and even over liberal democratic Israel in the Middle East. Third, there is a tendency to favor petrodictatorships over other regimes in a given region, and even at the expense of the United States.
This necessarily brief article will not exhaustively illustrate every case possible, which is beyond the scope of an online article. But it will provide a robust means for others to do further investigation. The system is fairly simple. All other things being equal, if a regime is socialist, Obama will favor it. If a movement is Islamist, Obama will favor it over a more secular president or dictator. And if a regime is a petrodictatorship, in other words, is an autocratic regime financed heavily by oil revenue, Obama’s actions will aid it.
Obama’s Foreign Policy Towards Socialist Countries
When President Obama entered office, some key actions showed his administration’s ideological bent in the realm of foreign policy. At the Summit of the Americas, the president warmly embraced Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez. He greeted Nicaraguan leftist strongman Daniel Ortega and endured an anti-American tirade with little comment, let alone protest. His administration sided with would-be tyrant Manuel Zelaya in Honduras over that country’s constitution, which forbids a third term by a president. The State Department under Hillary Clinton even sanctioned Honduras when the socialist Zelaya refused to obey the rule of law. The president has also made several overtures to Cuba to warm relations, though these have not been as well-received as apparently hoped for.
Under Obama, the United States secretly bailed out crumbling social welfare states in Europe, with little or no demand for reform. The President has made no political hay about the dysfunctional models of Greece (which was recently run by the head of the Socialist Internationale George Papandreou), Italy, Portugal, Iceland, or Ireland, to name the most prominent examples. Instead, the party that the president heads is pursuing the same kind of policies that landed the European PIIGS in financial trouble and has led to mass social unrest and with no objection or financial heed.
China, lest everyone should forget, is still a socialist dictatorship, despite the introduction of market reforms in the late 1970s. We have continued to borrow money from China unabated, despite a rapidly rising debt-to-GDP ratio and endless unfunded future liabilities. We have left in place prohibitive environmental restrictions on our industry, which the Chinese ignore and refuse to implement – although they applaud our president’s efforts to “green” our economy.The only socialist country the president hasn’t made visible concessions or appeals to has been the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.
Obama’s Foreign Policy Towards Islamist Movements
The Islamist picture is more complex and requires a bit of explanation. An Islamist regime is a religious-collectivist movement that ultimately seeks to restore a particular interpretation of sharia law as ideally ruled by a world caliphate. Islamists are thus animated by different goals and operate drastically different than more secular dictators who rule over Muslim societies, even those dictatorships may employ religious appeals to bolster the stability of their rule.
The best exemplar of an Islamist movement is the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that was born in late 1920s Egypt. In 1949, the Muslim scholar Sayyid Qutb appeared to fuse certain elements of socialism with Islam in his great work “Social Justice in Islam.” While maintaining that Islam was superior to all other religions and ideologies, he infused elements of socialism into the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, causing it to resemble more like a political party than a fundamentalist group.
Obama’s intervention into Libya to remove Moammar Qaddafi, an action he undertook without an act of war, Congressional authorization or even consultation, and was undertaken by appeal to a vague “international community,” resulted in a power vacuum that could be filled by extremist Islamic groups. The president’s aid in removing Egyptian president Mubarak resulted in elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and an even more extremist party into shared power.
Even more striking is what Obama has not done in the Middle East to promote freedom and stability. The ten days it took for the president to condemn the civil uprising in Iran following a clear case of election fraud spoke volumes. The administration’s support for Syrian strongman Bashir Assad, who is head of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. He has nonetheless condemned Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood-like organization, as an “uninvited guest.” Though Hillary Clinton had called Assad a “reformer,” the heat is on for the president to do something to curb the blatant bloodshed being let by Assad’s regime.
Toppling Assad would aid both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Such an action by the president, if undertaken, would provide a test case to see if Obama is not purely socialist in his objectives, but is more of a proponent of socialist-Islamist fusion.
Elsewhere in the region, the president withdrew forces from Iraq, leading to a spike in sectarian violence. But we can hardly deduce much from this undesirable situation, which he inherited. Obama’s willingness to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan is disturbing, but it does not give us much of a clue as to his ideological disposition. Both foreign policies towards those specific countries can be covered by the alternative explanation that Obama is for peace in these situations (although he has been belligerent elsewhere) or he is otherwise constrained by domestic perceptions of his ability to win the war or end them reasonably favorably.
Obama’s Foreign Policy Towards Petrodictatorships
The most glaring enigma in Obama’s foreign policy is that he refuses to allow America the ability to develop its energy resources in a reasonable and expedient manner. His offshore drilling moratorium, occasioned by the rapidly dissolving BP oil spill, was struck down in federal court; yet the president has imposed it anyway. The EPA has enforced prohibitive environmental regulations, throttling the energy and manufacturing industry. Specifically, Obama has gone aggressively after coal-fired plants, which use a fuel America has in abundance. He continues to block the exploration, extraction, and refining of fossil fuels, which the country possesses in massive untapped quantities. He specifically lobbied Congress to block the Keystone pipeline, which would create jobs and another stream of energy – a move that looks to benefit China. Obama has even subsidized Brazil’s development of petroleum offshore resources, which benefits not only the socialist president Dilma Roussef‘s regime, but verifiably, left-wing group financier George Soros.
Beyond the Middle East, and such seeming anomalies as Obama bowing to the Saudi prince, the president has undertaken a number of questionable actions in regards to Russia. This includes not only bending over backwards on military matters, but ceding Russian oil exploration in the arctic and pulling our claims to petroleum rich islands off the coast of Alaska. This is in addition to the above-mentioned environmentalist policies, which hamper our ability to be energy independent. The United States may not import a lot of oil and gas from Russia, but Europe certainly does. The price of oil is crucial to the viability to many authoritarian regimes around the world.
If we search for alternative explanations for the president’s stark record of socialist, Islamist, and petro-dictatorial regimes, and his abstention from advancing the cause of freedom, we find a few weaker hypotheses at the ready. The president could be a “global governance” advocate who sees the future as laying in a network of “complex interdependence,” and thus to stabilize the world and to prevent major catastrophic wars, while developing the means to remedy social injustice, no one country should dominate the international arena. This would entail hamstringing the hegemonic United States, but does not fully explain why Obama would support socialist and Islamist movements, at the expense of the relative power of those nations, while sending hostile or apathetic signals to Israel, and the people of Honduras and Iran. In other words, the pattern shows that Obama is ideologically driven in his foreign policy, rather than relative power driven.
Another explanation might be sought in King College president Dinesh D’Souza’s “anti-colonialist” theory, which posits that Obama is animated by a “dream from his father” to remedy the colonial and imperial injustices of the past. I believe this valuable contribution to our understanding of Mr. Obama sells short the Islamic and socialist ideological components readily observable in the president’s foreign policy, which are not easily falsifiable or explainable under other rubrics or heuristics, such as balance of power theory.
The conclusion this author comes away with is that President Obama is fundamentally hostile to the American conception of freedom. This holds true for whatever reason, noble or ignoble. The president may believe that the emphasis on liberty and individualism in American culture inhibits the government’s ability to aid those in need and to develop a safer, more equitable, and more secure world. But what is unexceptional in this plausible line of thinking is the failure to notice the abject misery of peoples around the world who do not value freedom or the private property that make free enterprise possible. What has been exceptional about this country is that it has developed strength as it moved towards freedom, and declined as it moved away. The United States has shined as it has moved away from the despotism that characterizes socialist, Islamist, and dictatorial regimes, and it has faded as it mimicked the crumbling social welfare states of Europe or even worse models for human governance.
A more compassionate and moral world cannot be advanced by laying America low, or by propping up brutal and inhumane regimes. It can only be shaped through the more ethical use of power. Unfortunately, one side of America’s ideological right-left paradigm believes it is no longer necessary to openly debate ideas with its opponents, but rather that it is necessary to use deception and media subterfuge to advance a fundamentally transformative agenda under the nose of the citizens and in defiance of the Constitution that grants political authority. Eventually, it is possible to detect even an unfamiliar pattern and observe its animation and effects. The best test of such a theory is its capacity for prediction.
President Obama’s sympathy for freedom is not only lacking, it is void, both domestically and internationally. Examples are not even forthcoming of how the president supports freedom in any way, without resorting to sophistic redefinition. The complete picture of Obama is one of an aspiring tyrant whose vision is not constrained to ruling over the American people, but rather is animated by a universal drive to suppress freedom.
Whether President Obama is ill-intentioned or well-intentioned is inconsequential. The results of his domestic and foreign policies are and will continue to be disastrous for the country and for the majority of humankind around the world.