Charles Krauthammer: Strategic thinking – Why Hillary got it right

By Charles Krauthammer

Published: Thu, Aug. 14, 2014, 7:30 p.m. MDT

 Leave it to Barack Obama's own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Leave it to Barack Obama's own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

(Czarek Sokolowski, AP)

"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle."

Hillary Clinton, The Atlantic, Aug. 10

WASHINGTON – Leave it to Barack Obama's own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Mind you, Obama does deploy grand words proclaiming grand ideas: the "new beginning" with Islam declared in Cairo, the reset with Russia announced in Geneva, global nuclear disarmament proclaimed in Prague (and playacted in a Washington summit). Untethered from reality, they all disappeared without a trace.

When carrying out policies in the real world, however, it's nothing but tactics and reactive improvisation. The only consistency is the president's inability (unwillingness?) to see the big picture. Consider:

1. Russia

Vladimir Putin has 45,000 troops on the Ukraine border. A convoy of 262 unwanted, unrequested, uninspected Russian trucks with allegedly humanitarian aid is headed to Ukraine to relieve the pro-Russian separatists now reduced to the encircled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine threatens to stop it.

Obama's concern? He blithely tells The New York Times that Putin "could invade" Ukraine at any time. And if he does, says Obama, "trying to find our way back to a cooperative functioning relationship with Russia during the remainder of my term will be much more difficult."

Is this what Obama worries about? A Russian invasion would be a singular violation of the post-Cold War order, a humiliating demonstration of American helplessness and a shock to the Baltic republics, Poland and other vulnerable U.S. allies. And Obama is concerned about his post-invasion relations with Putin?

2. Syria

To this day, Obama seems not to understand the damage he did to American credibility everywhere by slinking away from his own self-proclaimed red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons.

He seems equally unaware of the message sent by his refusal to arm the secular opposition (over the objections of Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus) when it was still doable. He ridicules the idea as "fantasy" because we'd be arming amateurs up against a well-armed government "backed by Russia, backed by Iran [and] a battle-hardened Hezbollah."

He thus admits that Russian and other outside support was crucial to tilting the outcome of this civil war to Bashar al-Assad. Yet he dismisses countervailing U.S. support as useless. He thus tells the world of his disdain for the traditional U.S. role of protecting friends by deterring and counterbalancing adversarial outside powers.

3. Gaza

Every moderate U.S. ally in the Middle East welcomed the original (week 1) Egyptian cease-fire offer. They were stunned when the U.S. then met with Qatar and Turkey, Hamas' lawyers, promoting its demands. Did Obama not understand he was stymieing a tacit and remarkable pan-Arab-Israeli alliance to bring down Hamas (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) -- itself an important U.S. strategic objective?

The definitive evidence of Obama's lack of vision is his own current policy reversals -- a clear admission of failure. He backed the next Egyptian cease-fire. He's finally arming the Syrian rebels. And he's returning American military power to Iraq. (On Russia, however, he appears unmovably unmoved.)

Tragically, his proposed $500 million package for secular Syrian rebels is too late. Assad has Aleppo, their last major redoubt, nearly surrounded. If and when it falls, the revolution may be over.

The result? The worst possible outcome: A land divided between the Islamic State (IS) and Assad, now wholly owned by Iran and Russia.

Iraq is also very little, very late. Why did Obama wait seven months after the IS takeover of Fallujah and nine weeks after the capture of Mosul before beginning supplying the Kurds with desperately needed weapons?

And why just small arms supplied supposedly clandestinely through the CIA? The Kurds are totally outgunned. Their bullets are bouncing off the captured armored Humvees the Islamic State has deployed against them. The Pentagon should be conducting a massive airlift to provide the peshmerga with armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and other heavier weaponry.

And why the pinprick airstrikes? The IS-Kurdish front is 600 miles long, more than the distance between Boston and Washington. The Pentagon admits that the current tactics -- hitting an artillery piece here, a truck there -- will not affect the momentum of IS or the course of the war.

But then again, altering the course of a war would be a strategic objective. That seems not to be in Obama's portfolio.

Charles Krauthammer's email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

1. John Charity Spring
Back Home in Davis County, UT,
Aug. 14, 2014

No reasonable person can deny that this Country is under direct attack by a cadre of left-wing extremists. As even Clinton admits, this conspiracy so overconfident of success it has slacked off in its strategy and tactics.

The current administration has adopted a foreign policy that ia as directionless as a one-eyed stoat. This has led to the massacre of American citizens by Lybian terrorists.

Why on earth would anyone trust Clinton to fix this mess? She was instrumental in creating it, and has only compounded this error by claiming she had no involvement.

2. Hutterite
American Fork, UT,
Aug. 14, 2014

Charles, you're right. It's time for Hillary to be president.

3. JoeBlow
Far East USA, SC,
Aug. 15, 2014

And another article criticizing what is being done with no suggestions on WHAT TO DO.

This is getting old. The GOP and people like Dr Krauthammer need to start suggesting courses of action rather than complain.

For the sake of discussion, If Putin does invade Ukraine, what should the US do?

Anyone? Specifics please. You may find that what we are doing is far better than the alternatives.

Until the GOP starts putting forth specific plans and recommended courses of action they will continue to be viewed as the party of no ideas. Or, at a minimum, no ideas that even the GOP can support collectively.

4. happy2bhere
clearfield, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

You know, I'd forgotten about the "new beginning" with Islam Obama proclaimed in Cairo. I remember the "reset button" done by Hillary with Russia. Boy those things sure have worked out, haven't they? I'll bet there is a good chance that after the 2016 Presidential election, it will be written that the worst thing Hillary Clinton ever did for her Presidential ambitions was become Obamas Secretary of State. It would be so much easier for her to distance herself from him were she not such a big part of his foreign policy failures.

5. Thid Barker
Victor, ID,
Aug. 15, 2014

Most Americans are suffering from severe Clinton fatigue! Hillary helped create our foreign and domestic problems and now is trying to disavow her culpability? Dr. Ben Carson is what America really needs! Not more of the same worn out, failed policies from the same old career politicians!