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Expert: US Foreign Policy in 'Retreat'

  • Pamela Dockins

Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)

A former senior advisor to the late Richard Holbrooke, who served as U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, says when it comes to foreign policy, the U.S. is in "retreat."

Vali Nasr, who is now dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), said the Obama administration has concluded that the best way forward for the United States is to do "less in the world."

On VOA's Press Conference USA, he said President Barack Obama had adopted a "minimalist foreign policy" strategy, partly due to what Nasr called an "overreach" by former President George W. Bush in handling the Iraq war.

Mr. Bush was widely criticized for mischaracterizations about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's so-called weapons of mass destruction as a justification for the war.

"We still are in the shadow of the Bush years," said Nasr, but added, "The world is not used to America suddenly disappearing."

Nasr said even if the U.S. made "mistakes," it is still considered a pivotal force for stability in many regions of the world.

Nasr outlines his theory in his new book. "The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat." His title borrows from a phrase used by former President Bill Clinton, who said "America stands alone as the world's indispensable nation."

Nasr said the U.S. approach to the Afghanistan conflict is an example of the Obama's administration's "retreat" on foreign policy.

The U.S. and other foreign combat forces plan to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

"Now that we have declared we are leaving, we have very little influence" in the region, said Nasr.

He said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Taliban and Pakistani officials had already begun "factoring" out the United States in the region and pursuing their own policies.

President Obama defended the planned U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during a speech Thursday on counterterrorism at the National Defense University.

"In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al-Qaida targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces," Obama said.

The president said the U.S. would no longer have the same needs for force protection by the end of 2014. He also said progress against al-Qaida elements in the region would reduce a need for drone strikes.

In spite of his overall criticism of Obama foreign policy, Nasr said the president does have "tremendous equities" at his disposal.

He said Obama's assets include his "global popularity," his "power of persuasion," and the "goodwill of the international community."

Nasr said the Obama administration could use the equities to more forcefully engage in the conflicts in Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Johns Hopkins foreign policy analyst James Mann outlined a similar view in his book, "The Obamians," saying Obama's view of the U.S. role in global affairs was "more modest and downbeat" than the views of his predecessors, former presidents Bush and Clinton.

Mann said the Obama administration has placed greater emphasis on domestic issues.

In spite of comments from both Nasr and Mann, Obama gave no indication of a U.S. foreign policy retreat in Thursday's speech.

He cited his administration's foreign policy engagement in countries like Syria, Libya and Egypt, as well as negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Obama said in spite of the risks of active diplomacy, he believed "any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run."
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