Bret Stephens has more in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The Obama administration has decided it wants out from nettlesome foreign entanglements, and now finds itself surprised that it’s running out of foreign influence.
That is the larger significance of last week’s Afghan diplomatic debacle, in which the Taliban opened an office in Doha for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”—the name Mullah Omar grandiloquently gave his regime in Kabul before its 2001 downfall. Afghan President Hamid Karzai responded by shutting down negotiations with the U.S. over post-2014 security cooperation.
Now the U.S. finds itself in an amazing position. Merely to get the Taliban to the table for a bogus peace process, the administration agreed at Pakistan’s urging to let Mullah Omar come to the table on his owns terms: no acceptance of the Afghan Constitution, no cease-fire with international forces, not even a formal pledge to never again allow Afghanistan to become a haven for international terrorism. The U.S. also agreed, according to Pakistani sources, to allow the terrorist Haqqani network—whose exploits include the 2011 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—a seat at the table.
Yet having legitimized Haqqani and given the Taliban everything it wanted in exchange for nothing, the U.S. finds itself being dumped by its own client government in Kabul, which can always turn to Iran as a substitute patron. Incredible: no peace, no peace process, no ally, no leverage and no moral standing, all in a single stroke. John Kerry is off to quite a start.
Iraq? The administration made the complete withdrawal of our troops a cornerstone of its first-term foreign policy, and now finds itself surprised that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won’t lift a finger to prevent Iranian cargo planes from overflying his airspace en route to resupplying Bashar Assad’s military.
Syria? President Obama spent two years giving the country’s civil war the widest berth, creating the power vacuum in which Iran, Hezbollah and Russia may soon achieve their strategic goals.
And Iran: In 2003, Tehran briefly halted its secret nuclear-weapons work and agreed to suspend its enrichment activities, at least for a few months. Yet since then, every U.S. effort to persuade Iran to alter its nuclear course has failed. Is it because the Obama administration was insufficiently solicitous, patient, or eager for a deal? Or is it that Tehran believes that treating this administration with contempt carries little cost?
The damage of the last five years and the coming three years will take far longer to redress. We need to get started; 2014 is only a few months off.