Non-interventionist foreign policy became a buzzword when it comes to Obama’s foreign policy creditendial (in particular in Syria) . There are too many accounts that see Obama as a non-interventionist. Nonetheless, today I argue that, Obama has intervened in many occasions (again in particular in Syria) and he did it in a very decisive way that non-interventionism is nothing but just a myth. Moreover, Obama has intervened in many occasion in a way that helps adversaries and enemies while undermining allies and friends. In Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in Afghanistan, in South or East China Sea, on Korean peninsula, in Arctic, the US has intervened time and again under Obama presidency. Remember the fact that the US inaction is one of the most powerful intervention and all of these interventions and non-interventions were detrimental to the world order. In this sense, Obama’s foreign policy is not non-interventionist, it is a selective destructive interventionist foreign policy which is unrivaled in whole US history.
To start, non-interventionism is a policy of non-intervening in situations where there is no immediate and obvious interest at stake. Matter of fact, it is different from “isolationism” where intervention is not an option at all. Thus, the main difference is the fact that non-interventionists tend to intervene wherever the stakes are high and under threats while isolationists focus inwards developments and close the door to any kind of intervention. The USA, in most of its history, primarily pursued non-interventionist foreign policy, which is not teetering between isolation and intervention, but rather intervening where it necessary. Cold War’s bipolar geopolitics made hard to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy pushing both side for intervening almost all areas of international politics all over the world. Even then, wars and crisis (Vietnam War, Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis) revived non-interventionism in the USA. After long and disruptive Bush’s era interventionism, Obama has indeed supported non-interventionist’s claims about world affairs. But the main problem with Obama’s foreign policy is that he could not find the balance between isolation and intervention. He did not intervene when it necessary (when the stakes are high) by staying idle in many occasion. He didn’t do any thing as Bashar Al-Assad butchers, barrel bombs, gassed his people. Even he helped him out by allowing his main backers Iran and Russia do whatever they want to do in Syria. He didn’t do anything while Putin crashes down Ukraine and slipped away all international norms and practice by invading Crimea. Even he encouraged Putin by granting him highest level diplomatic and political relations as he accelerates his revisionist and neo-soviet, neo-interventionist foreign policy by starting military intervention in Syria. He didn’t do anything as China bashing its neighbors in South and East China Sea, or North Korea time and time again tests its nuclear bombs. That is, Obama’s inactions in all these example is not non-intervention but part of the intervention (let’s call passive intervention.)
In this sense, Obama’s foreign policy has not turned out so well for the world order either. He did simply nothing when the choices are clear, and the stakes are high to protect the order that the US and its allies has created after the WW II. The stakes are not just about the sovereignty of rocky shoals and island reefs, or even the natural resources that surround them and lie beneath them. The stakes are not just assuring allies or reassuring adversaries. Stakes are not just protecting human rights, or democracy. Stakes are not just territorial integrity of the some states. Stakes are not just underlining R2P and twenty first century international affairs. Stakes are not secure flows of oils, money or trade. They are about sustaining the rules-based order, which has enabled the people to strengthen their security, allowing for progress and prosperity. That is the order the United States – working with its partners and allies – that is the order that has helped underwrite since the end of World War II. Obama has shattered that order by not intervening (passively intervening) when the stakes are that high.
But Obama is not an isolationist or a principled non-interventionist. On the contrary, he is a non-principled interventionist. He did intervened (actively) in many occasions. He did it always the way in which his allies and friends felt betrayed where his adversaries and enemies awarded. Syria is the biggest blot on this front. Obama kept not intervening when the stakes are high. He let Ayatollahs and Putin play the game. He let Assad butchers his people. He let Assad used chemical weapons. He let Iran hegemony spreads into the region. This are passive interventions of Obama or non-interventions or with Obama’s word not doing stupid stuff. Are there any more stupid stuff can Obama do.. Yes of course.. He did actively intervene also. He did it by supporting PKK linked Kurds which alienated Turks. He did it by supporting Putin’s grand strategy of supporting Assad by engaging him diplomatically, politically, and military (probably finally economically) and allowing him escaping sanctions. Obama literally awarded Putin for all of his bad behaviors, which alienated Europeans. Obama also literally awarded Iran for all of his bad behavior with nuclear deal. American interventionism has awarded Iran by granting him Iraq, and Obama’s unprincipled non-interventionism awarded Iran entire Middle East by tilting all balance (of power and threats) towards Iranian side, which alienated Gulf States and other regional powers. He intervened in Libya (by so called leading behind) and let it burnt down. He simply bombed and abandoned. In Afghanistan he rushed to retreat. He intervened in Egypt by (passively) supporting a military coup, which alienated many muslims, liberals.
Roger Cohen wrote that: “President Obama has tried to claw back American overreach after the wars without victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has responded to a mood of national weariness with foreign adventure (although Americans have not been very happy with Obama’s pivot to prudence). He has tried better to align American power with what is, in his perception, America’s limited ability to make a difference on its own at a time of growing interdependence. One definition of the Obama doctrine came from the president last year when he declared: “It avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.” Or, more succinctly, “Don’t do stupid stuff.” But that’s not enough, as Syria demonstrates.”
Obama has repeatedly deployed a series of phrases “to be standing with the right side of the history” meaning that his side is the side destined for victory. I think, unfortunate for any American president, Obama is at the “Wrong Side of the Right Side of History” all along the way. 20 years from now, history depicts Obama as such. Because he is an unprincipled -neo-non-interventionist, who intervenes at wrong time at wrong places and wrongly. That’s why he made lots and lots of stupid stuff!!!