Editor's note: The following commentary originally appeared on "The Foundry," the Heritage Foundation's policy blog.
Excerpts from a new tell-all book made quite a splash in Washington yesterday. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates apparently blasts President Obama on foreign policy and the U.S. military in his upcoming book, "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War."
But as Heritage’s James Jay Carafano said, “You don’t need a book from the former Secretary of Defense to know that many of the decisions Obama made during Gates’s watch were a disaster.”
Gates started as Secretary of Defense during President George W. Bush’s second term, and Obama asked him to stay on during his first term.
The revelations from Gates’s book come as no surprise to Heritage experts, who have been warning that Obama has made decisions based on his personal preference for domestic policy—at the expense of America’s standing in the world and our men and women in uniform.
Here are three things you don’t need to read the book to know.
1. President Obama is reaping what he has sown on foreign policy.
“The President has never had a coherent approach to foreign policy,” explained Heritage’s Ted Bromund. “Instead, he entered office with a string of liberal platitudes about the world and a deep desire to focus on domestic policy.”
Obama’s style? “Instead of leading from the front, the President emphasized multilateral institutions (such as the U.N.), international law, and engagement with hostile regimes,” Bromund said. The essence of the Obama Doctrine—the President’s foreign policy approach—is that Obama has “placed hope above reality ” when dealing with countries like Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea, said Heritage’s Luke Coffey.
2. Lessons learned in conflict are costly.
Fighting terrorism and state-sponsored enemies is a deadly business. As the focus of 2014 turns to the Administration’s promise to pull out of Afghanistan, the specter of Iraq looms large.
“The withdrawal from Iraq was a colossal failure,” says Carafano, Heritage’s E. W. Richardson Fellow. “Violence is higher today than when Obama took office. The country is near civil war.”
And our enemies haven’t taken a break.
“We are already seeing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda staging a comeback following Obama’s mishandling of the surge in Afghanistan and the drawdown of forces planned in 2014,” Carafano said. He wrote yesterday that “what we need from the White House is leadership that reestablishes America’s ability to influence outcomes in the region for the good—rather than trumpeting easy ‘fixes’ while doing as little as possible.”
3. The state of the U.S. military matters.
During Gates’s tenure, the military began to shed war-fighting capabilities, canceled missile defense programs, and compromised on readiness. Again, this reflected the place of defense among the President’s priorities. But this directly impacts America’s ability to respond to a crisis.
“Throughout his Administration, the President has sought—successfully—to cut the defense budget. But, inevitably, there came a time when he thought it was right to use force,” Bromund said. “His successors will, at some point, be in exactly the same position, perhaps when action really is in America’s vital national interest—but by that point, his cuts will have made successful action difficult or even impossible.”
America has to be ready to defend itself—and reducing the military’s capabilities carries the risk that the country may not be ready when action is needed.
Decisions have consequences. Heritage’s Carafano and Distinguished Fellow Kim Holmes predicted years ago that Obama’s approach to foreign policy would prove to be bad for America and the world.
“Ultimately, the Obama Doctrine will force friendly nations to look elsewhere, not to Washington, for arrangements that bring them greater security. And that will make this a far more dangerous world indeed.”
Amy Payne is Assistant Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation. In that capacity, Amy serves as Managing Editor of The Foundry, Heritage's public policy news blog, as well as the "Morning Bell," one of Washington's most widely read and influential e-newsletters.