Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Valentina Tzoneva exclusively for SouthFront
The humiliation at Hangzhou Airport and the results from the farewell G20 meeting for the American President, completed the sad epilogue of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine.
Yes, we can – this is not simply a pre-election slogan of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and one of his 10 favorite songs. “Yes, we can” became a message to a different America after years of exhausting wars against terrorism. The inspirational ideas which motivated millions of Americans to go to the ballot boxes included the end of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and a reconsideration of the use of military means. President Obama suggested a strategy for using military force only in extreme situations, when the main interests of the USA are threatened. The idea stands on the foundation of cooperation with local partners instead of positioning American troops in foreign countries, which in practice, leads to building relations of alliances with key regional states, with the USA in the leading role.
From the ideas to their practical implementation, Obama’s foreign policy team prioritised the initiative for the nuclear agreement with Iran and the “restart” of relations with Russia. Withdrawing his troops from the Middle East, Obama’s big goal remained the proclaimed “turn to Asia,” the region which is incomparably more important for the United States’ economic future, according to him. The last big forum in Obama’s second presidential mandate, the meeting of the G20 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, hammered the last nail in the coffin of Obama’s foreign policy. A number of strategic American initiatives, like the efforts for regulating the crisis in the Middle East in a manner favouring the US and the politics of isolating Moscow, failed. Moreover, the great ideas which helped Obama get elected systematically became delegitimised and among them, the non-military solution to the crisis.
The saga at Hangzhou Airport – a response to American pressure in the South China Sea
Obama’s arrival in China for the G20 meeting coincided with a symbolic act of disdain towards the American President. It turned out that there was no proper ladder for Barack Obama’s plane and the leader of the USA had to get out, not from the usual door in the front, but from a rarely-used exit at the lower part of the plane, without the red carpet provided for the other dignitaries. A serious conflict arose at the airport’s runway. In addition to the created obstructions, the Chinese officials did not allow American journalists to film, and Obama’s adviser, Susan Rice, had been prevented from riding in the President’s convoy.
Part of the explanations for this event included the assumption that the organisation at the airport had not been up to standard and the officials did not recognise Susan Rice. In reality, the Chinese – who have a thousand years of tradition in protocol – do not leave the smallest detail to chance. The meeting of Obama, in diplomatic language, pointed not only to the low level of trust between the two countries, but also to the extremely hostile attitude of Beijing towards the United States. The reason for the tension is the Obama administration’s politics of containment towards the Celestial in the South China Sea. In the country of Confucius, they know Susan Rice, who is a leading figure in the preparation of the politics on China, very well. At the end of July, Rice was sent to the country to meet leader Xi Jinping, in an attempt to place pressure, after the decision of the international tribunal in The Hague to reject Beijing’s claims for the South China Sea. In an interview with Reuters just before the visit, Rice promised that the American military will continue to swim in and to fly over the South China Sea. And whereas before the events in Crimea, China preferred not to get into a direct confrontation with the USA, today, the leaders of China do not show any readiness to give up the interests of their country. Obama’s “turn to Asia” met the fierce resistance of China and will be remembered by the increased military cooperation with the Philippines and Australia and the contested Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which both contenders for Obama’s post – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – rejected, arguing that it does not protect the interests of American workers and industry. The United States President’s attempt to turn the American strategy to Eastern Asia failed through his attention engaged with the endless conflicts of the Middle East.
The American strategy got lost in the Syrian Desert
Without a doubt, the final efforts of President Obama are focused on closing the Syrian page. The President of the States aims to achieve an agreement which he can leave to his successor. His conversation with Vladimir Putin at the G20 did not produce visible signs that Barak Obama will get out of the Syrian swamp – the foreign policy conundrum for which he gets most serious criticism in his home land. Ever since the outbreak of the crisis which is related to attempts to sabotage the project for a gas pipeline from the rich Iranian fields to the Mediterranean seaports of Syria, Obama has been blamed for a lack of strategy. “We delude ourselves in believing that we are a key player in the Middle East. There are only two sides there – one of them is Russia together with Iran and Assad. We say “No, Assad must go.” But the other side is Islamic State,” commented analyst, K.T. McFarland.
The total failure of Obama’s Syrian politics became clear when the Pentagon announced that only four or five of those trained in a special programme in support of the Syrian opposition, continue fighting. The USA invested over half a billion dollars in this programme. According to the Director of the influential private analytical agency, Stratfor, George Friedman, the explanation for the crisis is simple: the USA arms the opposition groups which, according to them, must overthrow Bashar Assad. The scenario Friedman confirms, was however, ill-written and the united jihadists ran over the Iraqi border. A huge arsenal of modern weapons made in the USA – which were a generous arming for the new Iraqi army – ended in the hands of the jihadists.
Obama’s Middle East politics was marked by numerous controversies in Congress and even in the Democratic Party. The White House insisted that Obama was not guilty for the failure of the programme for supporting the Syrian opposition as he had always been against it, while his critics from the Republican Party had forced him to approve it. A point was reached where Obama himself started complaining from the Pentagon, which repeatedly pressed him for increases in military forces and military operations abroad. The allies of the USA in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which tend to use the American forces for their own goals, and the most influential foreign policy think tanks in Washington which “fulfil the demands of the Arab financial sponsors and pro-Israeli community,” make for impotent vindications.
Two profound events marked the culmination of the failure of the Middle East policy: the declaration of 51 diplomats from the State Department demanding that Obama changes the policy in Syria and the removal of Assad, and a letter from American Republican senators to leaders of Iran in which they declared that they are against the agreement with Tehran and blamed Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that only Congress has the power to lift the sanctions. The whole mess exacerbated the relations with the Sunni monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, excluding Iran from the list of allies, making Israel turn to Russia, while the Turks started distancing themselves from NATO. After all, the result is: the leading factor in the Middle East is no longer the United States but Russia, and neither Obama nor Kerry, not even the future president of the USA, can change this easily.
Isolation of Russia!? Putin is the star at the G20
Obama’s administration moved to a policy of economic and political isolation of Moscow after the hard rebuff of the American initiative in Syria and Ukraine. The appeal of the American President, however, turned out to be the next failed foreign policy initiative, and Vladimir Putin became the centre of international politics. The Russian President was met with particular warmth by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, a day after he met Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abbe, in Vladivostok with whom the announcement was made for Putin’s visit to Japan on 15 December. The Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, cited by TASS, said that Moscow and Tokyo are planning to announce new big projects during the planned visit. European leaders Theresa May, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel consistently waited for their turn to meet the Russian President, and Reccep Erdogan covered Putin with a variety of offers for stimulating economic activity between the two countries. Obama and the Russian leader held negotiations for over an hour and a half, in an attempt to find a solution for the Syrian crisis. As a grand finale, Russia and Saudi Arabia signed a joint statement for stabilising the price of oil, which from day one, led to increase in the price of the raw material by 5%.
Regardless of the weak results in Barack Obama’s foreign policy, his consolation stems from the fact that he will be remembered as the president who resisted the attempts for peaceful resolution of conflicts and who confronted the “war party” of the American establishment. Announcing that his biggest mistake was the war in Libya (which the analysts ironically call “Hillary’s war”), the first coloured president of the USA confirmed his vision as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is trying to work for a more secure world in an administration dominated by ”hawks” from both the left and the right – the neoconservatives and the liberal interventionalists. The delegitimising in the American ruling circles of Obama’s ideas for non-military solutions of the crisis, portends a difficult future for the world.