The challenges of foreign policy tend to look pretty much the same the day after the election as they did before. To date, the Obama doctrine has been about withdrawing from the world stage, outsourcing responsibilities, and valuing “engagement” over effectiveness. Predictably, America’s competitors see America stepping down as an opportunity—a chance to fill a vacuum and test the mettle of US commitments.
Foreign affairs were simply not center-stage issues in this election cycle. The president was not really forced to defend his record. Americans reelected him—not his foreign policy. That offers a unique opportunity for this president. He can do an honest appraisal of the state of the affairs of state—and he can change course.
It is not too late for the White House to undo the damage, and it’s a short to-do list:
- Stop gutting military capabilities.
- Stop negotiating with America’s adversaries by deliberate self-weakening and accommodation.
- Stop thinking the threat of nuclear war can be reduced by reducing the US nuclear arsenal and being satisfied with minimal missile defenses.
- Stop thinking the US can remain safe by pivoting its attention to one important part of the world and ignoring others.
- Start treating the threat of Al Qaeda and its affiliates as the core of global Islamist insurgency rather than a sideshow nuisance.
Of course, President Obama may elect to “stay the course” on his foreign policies. He may leave his defense plans unchanged. In that case, we’ll get to see what Jimmy Carter’s second term would have looked like.