Understanding Obama’s Foreign Policy

Eric Zuesse

On 28 May 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the West Point Military Academy class of graduating cadets, future leaders of America’s armed forces, and he gave them their marching orders, in the careers upon which they were just starting out (here abbreviated as a summary of his rhetorical  view of U.S. foreign policy):

Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums. … Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve. … A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future. … 

We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities. As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases. Regional aggression that goes unchecked — whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world — will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military. We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries. … 

Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. … International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life. (Applause.) 

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action. In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed. … 

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people. … With the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people. … 

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong. Let me offer just two examples why. 

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine. And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks. … 

The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe. And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.) 

So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

When Obama first came into office in 2009, he was informed by his State Department and CIA that Syria was in the midst of a devastating drought, which might help finally bring about the conditions that Kim Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson who had led the CIA coup that ended democracy in Iran in 1953 and installed the brutal Shah’s dictatorship in order to benefit U.S. and British oil companies, had set forth in his subsequent 1957 plan as being prerequisites to overthrow the secular Ba’athist Party in Syria and take over that country so as to move it away from its alliance with the then Soviet Union.  

The Syrian government of the current Ba’athist leader of Syria, the nominally Shiite Bashar al-Assad, begged the U.S. and aid agencies for food and drought-assistance, but received nothing from the Obama regime — and then Assad’s government got swept up in the ‘Arab Spring’ anti-government, pro-Islamist, demonstrations which were going on in 2011 throughout the Arab world. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-fundamentalist lands sent jihadists in to overthrow the Shiite Assad. Obama helped the Sauds, and their fundamentalist-Sunni friends Tayyip Erdogan who runs Turkey, and the Thani family who own Qatar, set up a sarin-gas attack in Syria in August 2013 to be blamed on Assad, and the U.S. and other Western propaganda-media reported heavily about this evil use of sarin gas ‘by Assad’, even though it was totally a U.S.-allied job, to stir international hatred against Assad. U.S. ‘news’ media never reported that Obama himself was behind the sarin gas attack, which he blamed on Assad and claimed to ‘justify’ America’s invasion of Syria. It was a very successful con-job, by all concerned. And the U.S. still supplies the jihadists in Syria, while claiming to fight against them. The U.S. supplies the jihadists through its NATO ally, Turkey, and those supplies come not only from the U.S. but from other NATO countries, as well as from Saudi Arabia.

Obama also sent military supplies to the Saud family who own Saudi Arabia, and they sent not jihadists but their official U.S.-armed troops into nearby Bahrain, whose royal family were old friends of the Sauds and were likewise fundamentalist-Sunnis but they ruled over a 75%-Shiite population who were demonstrating not for a Sunni Islamic-law government (as our jihadists in Syria were demanding), since they already had that; they were demonstrating instead for some degree of democracy and equal-rights in Bahrain’s Sunni dictatorship, and they got bullets and torture and bloodshed instead.

Though there is no longer any ideological “Cold War” between communism versus capitalism (if there ever really was  such a basis for that conflict), there has intensified ever since the U.S.-imposed Shah was overthrown in Iran in 1979 a conflict between the Sunni dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and the 1979-installed Shiite dictatorship in Iran. That conflict’s origins go actually all the way back to the founding of the Saud dynasty in 1744 and their commitment ultimately to conquer if not exterminate all Shiites worldwide and convert everyone to the extremist-Sunni sect of the Saud family’s friend Muhammad Ibn Wahhab. Because the new, post-1979, Iran is as controlled by its fundamentalist-Shiite clergy, just as Saudi Arabia has long been controlled by its fundamentalist-Sunni clergy, this conflict has indeed become a global Sunni-versus-Shiite war; and, whereas the U.S. is allied with the Sunnis, Russia is allied with the Shiites. So: instead of capitalism-versus-communism, the new ‘Cold War’ is instead between Sunni-versus-Shiite — and it’s hot  not cold. (Those millions of refugees are very hot in Europe — and are not wanted there — but, because the U.S. and its Sunni fundamentalist allies are determined to defeat Russia, Europe does what it must to deal with them.)

The U.S. is allied with the Sauds — the extremist Sunnis — for two reasons:

1) The Sauds are the largest buyers of U.S.-made weaponry and basically run the Gulf Cooperation Council of other fundamentalist-Sunni Arab royal families, which include some of the other top foreign buyers of U.S. weaponry; so, the U.S. relies heavily upon those dictators to keep the profits and employment up at Lockheed Martin and other U.S.-based arms-companies; and,

2) The U.S. also runs the anti-Russian military club, NATO (another marketing-arm for U.S. weaponry), and the main economic competitors of America’s Arabic dictators’ oil-producers happen to be Russia and Iran — the real targets of American actions.

Wheras the two largest arms-exporters (dwarfing any others) are the U.S. and Russia, the top arms-importer (dwarfing any other) is Saudi Arabia; and their royal friends, the UAE, are #7. So, the U.S. needs the Sauds in order for U.S. weapons-makers to have a big-enough market for U.S. weapons so as to keep the Pentagon’s budget, which is already about 40% of the global military budget, from being even larger — perhaps 50% of the global military budget. This is the efficient way to keep American arms-factories humming. (Higher production-volume means lowered cost-per-weapon to manufacture.)

And then there’s the oil-and-gas factor: the world’s largest oil-and-gas exporter is Russia, but Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil-exporter, and their buddies the fundamentalist-Sunni Thani family who own Qatar are the world’s largest gas-exporter — and both the Sauds and the Thanis have long wanted to build, through currently Shiite-Iran-allied Syria, oil and gas pipelines to get their oil-and-gas as cheaply as possible into the world’s largest energy-market: Europe. That’s why Obama wants to overthrow the non-sectarian Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and replace it with a Sunni government, even if that’s an al-Qaeda-allied or other extremist-Sunni government. (After all, both the Sauds and the Thanis are likewise Sunni fundamentalists. They can get along with jihadists, unless the jihadists are doing their terrorism inside their own countries. For example: 9/11 didn’t hurt the Saudi royals one bit. By donating to jihadists, those royals retain the loyalty of their clerics, who provide their authority to rule, but the jihad is always supposed to be outside the country.)

Wall Street, and U.S. private-equity and other investment funds, are heavily invested in, and have interlocked directorates with, U.S. oil and gas and weapons producers; so, the financial health of Wall Street, and of those major investors, depends heavily upon defeating Russia and its allies — beating the ‘competition’. This is why Obama says, “Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us.” He aims not only to take over the formerly Soviet Ukraine, and formerly Russia-allied Serbia (now entering NATO), but to defeat the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — so as to keep all of them down, and America and its allies up, in the international ‘competition’, such as he outlined to the West Point graduating cadets.

Here are some of the ways that this plays out:

Obama is right now trying to overthrow the current, Russia-allied, government of Brazil. As usual, this is portrayed in U.S. propaganda-media as an ‘anti-corruption’ operation by the U.S., but the forces that the U.S. is trying to install there are even more corrupt than the government that exists there (as is usually the case); the real reason for Obama’s love for the Brazilian opposition is that Brazil, like the rest of the BRICS, is Russia-allied.

Back in February 2014, Obama overthrew the democratically elected President of Russia’s neighbor Ukraine, in an extremely bloody coup, which was at least a year in being set-up, and the rationale for this ‘democratic uprising’ was that that actually democratically elected President was corrupt — but no one mentioned that all of Ukraine’s post-Soviet leaders have been  corrupt. The “armed militias in ski masks” that Obama referred to in the coup and the ‘Anti Terrorist Operation’ afterward, were actually his, not Viktor Yanukovych’s (the President whom Obama overthrew); they were America’s mercenaries, not Russia’s as he pretends they were. And now, after the extremely bloody civil war that resulted in Ukraine when the regions that had voted overwhelmingly for the President whom Obama overthrew rejected Obama’s coup-regime and refused to be ruled by it, Ukraine is even more corrupt than it ever was, but, for some mysterious reason, the United States isn’t overthrowing the post-coup government. Obama had gotten what he basically wanted out of his coup: Russia’s ability to pipeline its gas into the EU is now severely hampered by the necessity to establish alternate pipeline-routes. Ukraine is crucial to strangulating Russia, because most of Russia’s gas-pipelines into Europe run through the formerly friendly nation of Ukraine, which now is rabidly anti-Russian. So: the coup and ethnic-cleansing and all the rest have been just a part of America’s effort to strangulate Russia; and all of the maimed and dead people are merely collateral damage — no concern of Obama.

Libya, likewise, was a Russia-ally under Gaddafi, but no longer under Hillary Clinton’s joyously “We came, we saw, he died, ha, ha!!” failed state.

And the U.S. government has now officially blamed Iran for having caused the 9/11 attacks and fined Iran $10.5 billion for them, though the Sauds were actually behind it.

Those are perhaps the main examples of Obama’s foreign-policy successes; but, if he gets his TPP, TTIP, &/or TISA, mega-‘trade’ deals approved, then he’ll have an even more successful legacy of isolating Russia, China, the BRICS generally, and preserving U.S. global hegemony, or the U.S. Empire.

Anyone who says that Obama has no foreign policy simply doesn’t understand what his foreign policy is. It has been very successful, even if Russia might be doing a surprisingly effective job of countering it.

As regards Russia’s allies, which Obama is trying to destroy so as to isolate Russia, Obama has been especially successful, but George W. Bush’s conquered nation of Iraq also shows as being extraordinaily miserable — he too experienced some success in that regard. In the 22 March 2016 Gallup 2015 Global Emotions Report, which covers 140 countries, one sees on page 8: “Iraq, Iran Top Negative Experience List,” and Syria is #4 on that list. On page 5: Syria had the “Lowest Positive Experiences Worldwide, 2015,” and Ukraine is 11th-lowest; Yemen is 7th-lowest. On page 9: “Iraqis Are Saddest and Most Likely to Be in Physical Pain.” Moreover: “Iraqis alone led the world in sadness and physical pain. They statistically tied Iranians in anger.” Thus, to be an ‘enemy nation’ in the view of official Washington, or else a conquered nation (like Ukraine and Iraq), means to be a nation of extremely unhappy people. Under the latest-two Presidents, the U.S. government seems to be doing its foreign-policy job, of punishment. This must give America’s controlling powers considerable satisfaction.

Obama’s paymasters who will be celebrating his legacy throughout his retirement, will praise and reward him handsomely, even if not be publicly doing it for the actual  reasons behind their ‘donations’. He’s a gifted man, who will be highly ‘gifted’ in retirement. But how can historians write the history of his Administration, when the contemporary ‘news’ accounts about it are composed of such lies as that the coup in Ukraine was a ‘democratic revolution,’ and that the sarin gas attack in Syria in August 2013 was by Assad instead of by Obama and his allies, and that Assad isn’t popular in Syria, and that the Obama Administration is seeking to establish ‘democracy’ instead of a very unwanted jihadist dictatorship or else failed state in Syria?

All of this just goes to show how successful Obama has been, especially with his own nation’s press. But that very success will present a challenge to America’s historians. If they don’t condemn America’s press, will they really be  historians? Perhaps there won’t be a market for historians of America, inside America. And, if America’s Empire continues, then where will  there be a market for historians of America? How long will propaganda continue to be marketed as ‘news reporting,’ and as ‘history’? Perhaps some subjects are doomed to be only mythology, never history. Perhaps mere rhetoric (such as Obama’s rhetoric) will always be reported, while its lies will never be noted, and this will constitute ‘history’, until the end of time — forever.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.