Obama's foreign policy has become a matter of intense debates in the US. Experts tend to agree that 'America does not have a coherent, functioning grand strategy'. Well, is that really so?
Or - is it rather an issue for domestic consumption by Obama’s opponents? Or is it that the US voters and allies would find the really ‘functioning’ US strategy just too difficult to accept? Dr. George Tzogopoulos, Research Fellow with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, and Giulietta Chiesa, Italian political analyst and member of the European Parliament.
US President Barak Obama is coming under fire from his own people for ‘mishandling’ Ukrainian crisis. Some are saying he’s too weak, others are accusing Washington of directly supervising ‘punitive’ operations launched by the Kiev authorities in the South-East of Ukraine. And both parties agree that ‘America does not have a coherent, functioning grand strategy’.
Says Dr. George Tzogopoulos, Research Fellow with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy:
"There is a paradox in the American society. Although, on the one hand, the American citizens are not happy with the foreign policy of President Obama vis-à-vis Ukraine, they practically do not care much about the foreign policy.
So, although the approach of the President regarding the Ukrainian crisis is not accepted by the majority of citizens in the US, this majority is highly interested about the domestic problems and not about the foreign policy.
In that regard I could say that the trauma of the Iraq war is still active in the US and this is good news for the President. On that basis he can still survive, although people do not like the way he is acting internationally and the fact that the foreign policy of the US gives the impression of that of a weak state.
Is it another issue which could be used in the presidential campaign?
Yes, sure. We are on the way to the midterm elections and foreign policy will play a role. It always plays a role in the US regarding the attitude of the society, although it is not a priority right now. So, the main reason for the change of the media coverage is related to the fact that we are approaching the midterm election and also the presidential elections two years later.
There already are the debates within the US as to whether Mrs. Hilary Clinton can be the successor of Obama, while there are also discussions about the new leader of the Republican Party. So, I would certainly say it is at play in the change of the coverage within the context of the pre-election climate, which cultivation has been started in the US.
But apart from that, the fact that the US gives an impression of being a weak state in international relations in comparison to previous years, at least, is a debatable issue and an issue which mainly attracts the attention of the Republicans, who criticize the President Barack Obama. I think that the foreign policy is a weak issue for the President and this is an opportunity for the Republicans to gain support in the society.
Talking about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, doesn’t it give you an impression of being rather unsystematic?
Sometimes it can be the case, but, on the other hand, the good news about the approach of the President himself since 2009 is that he does not decide to use military force in the international affairs. And this is very important.
On the other hand, of course, the fact that the position of the US gives an impression of a state which is not prepared to exert a tough and muscular foreign policy, also creates question marks within the American society itself, and also analysts and professors in the US criticize this foreign policy.
So, I would mainly explain the unsystematic behavior of the foreign policy team of the President on the basis of the fact that, on the one hand, they prefer to give peaceful resolutions to problems but, on the other hand, they are not happy with the results.
So, they try to find a balance and they do not know how they can achieve it. This unsystematic behavior means that they are still looking for the best remedy to deal with a crisis.
But why would they be so unhappy? NATO is still strengthening its positions in Europe – as a result of Ukrainian crisis …
Yes, it could be so. But the main problem for the US, and especially for the counselors of Mr. Obama is the fact that we now see that Russia and China are much stronger in comparison to the previous years.
So, although the US is not prepared to lead a military operation or to use a military force, it sees other countries trying to challenge the hegemony of the American state and to take an important role within the multipolar world, which is currently shaping out of the Ukrainian crisis.
So, the debate in the US is flourishing, it is very lively on how it is better for the country to adapt itself to the new developments, because we know that the attention of the US has turned towards China.
And we also see that the Russian President Putin is much more powerful right now. And especially for the Republicans, we know from their writings from the beginning of the 21st century, that Russia has been a priority. So, we see that President Obama does not agree with this approach but, on the other hand, he now receives criticism for the fact that his policy doesn’t bear any fruits.
Could it be one of the reasons for another move, which seems a bit illogical to me? I'm now referring to the demands by the American administration for Bulgaria to skip South Stream and, on the other hand, it seems that Greece has come under more pressure to go on with its privatization campaign. And the recent news is that it could sell several of its ports, which actually makes those two countries, which are NATO members… - it weakens them in the long run…
This is a debatable issue. Of course, on the one hand, there are many voices in Bulgaria, for instance, which support the future construction of the South Stream pipeline. And there are additional voices in Greece regarding the future cooperation between the country and Moscow.
On the other hand, the whole Ukrainian crisis and the response on the part of the West is based on the cooperation between the US and the EU. And so far we have seen that the EU itself has not followed a systematic approach, because it still remains dependent on the Russian energy resources. So, this is the main reason.
And what is really sad, is the fact that, as you correctly mentioned, we are talking about relatively small states which are paying the price for the attempt of the European Commission and the EU to deal with Russia.
I would have expected a much more tough approach on the part of the EU, if it had been prepared to practically apply a policy of sanctions vis-à-vis Russia and not only to limit the future influence of countries, like Bulgaria and Greece"...
So, it looks like the EU, as a US ally against Russia, is caught between two fires. Washington’s critics are talking about ‘mistakes’ in the US’ handling of the Ukraine crisis. Are they really the mistakes?
Says Italian political analyst and member of the European Parliament Giulietta Chiesa:
"I don’t believe it has been a mistake, because the operation has been planned very-very precisely for a long time. It was not an improvisation. It is the result of a long operation where some European states, particularly the three Baltic republics and especially Poland, have worked to prepare the quasi-Nazi or fully Nazi groups on Euro-Maidan.
It is not possible that the US were not aware of that. It is impossible that the President of the US was not aware of that. It is impossible that in December he did not know that Madame Nuland was openly telling that they invested $5 billion into this operation to give the Ukrainian people the future they deserve.
This was clearly planned operation. No mistakes and Mr. Obama bears all the responsibility for that. Certainly, not alone. In Europe, there’ve been other operators of this war. The secret services of Poland have worked very intensively and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is clear and it is now very well known after what some newspapers in Poland told about the events happening around Warsaw. This means, it is not a secret that the operation has been planned.
Now, the question is that Obama has created a very-very dangerous situation where Russia cannot resolve the question without violating the international law, for instance, openly intervening to defend the Russians in Donbas. It is clear that Russia cannot do that. Russia can only try to maneuver. But it is not Russia who’s created the situation. It is the USA who has created this situation first of all.
I simply hope that somebody in the US begins to understand that this will be a very long question, a dramatic question. Now I'm reading Mr. Poroshenko’s declaration. And he says – we want Crimea back. What does it mean? That they are waging war against Russia?
It is incredible, because it is impossible that Mr. Poroshenko says these things without having some support somewhere. Where is the support for Mr. Poroshenko telling this? It is clear that he is pushed by somebody from somewhere.
I believe that it is not only Poland doing that, probably, there are other forces working in this direction. And this will create a terrible danger, also for the USA. This is a question that a responsible president should take into account. But evidently in the White House there is no responsible president now.
What kind of danger for the US are we talking about?
I believe that the US is trying to force the situation and to go straight against Russia. This is the evident proposal – to cut the possibility of Russia to sell its gas to Europe. I see a clear attack against Russia and against Europe at the same time.
What that means? It means that the US are preparing themselves to a very harsh confrontation with Russia, first. And it is not only Ukraine under question. The problem is that this problem is not regional, it is a world-scale question. It is a change of strategy in the US going straight against Russia.
This is evident for me and this is a danger, because Russia is a world power. Russia has the power to defend itself. This is serious. I remember at the very beginning, when Mr. Obama was telling that it is necessary to adjust the relations with Russia using a technological term, to "reset" the relations.
Okay, this resetting did not happen. Now we are witnessing a reset in the opposite direction, a reset in the sense that the US wants to affirm that they are the owners of the world and the planet. And they cannot do that, because they are not the owners of this planet anymore. There is China, there is Russia.
My feeling is that the US is stepping on a very dangerous path of confrontation with the rest of the world. The first moment, it is against Russia. But it is only in the first moment. This is a dangerous path, because the Russians, not only Putin, not only the leaders of Russia, but I believe the Russians are now beginning to reflect on their position in the world in a different way.
There is a change in the feeling of the Russians after the Ukrainian crisis and this change will produce long-lasting effects also on the behavior of Russia. This is my feeling now".