Radicalization Of U.S. Foreign Policy

This post was coauthored by Nake M. Kamrany, University of Southern California and Cole Kosydar, University of Pennsylvania.

Ostensibly the hallmark or seal of Mr. Barack Obama's presidency is blemished with the radicalization of U.S. foreign policy. The lamps are going out across America and the western world and we don't see them coming back on for some time unless the U.S. changes course. Global circumstances may be far from what they were in 1914 and Sir Edward Grey's words today certainly do not carry the same prescient doom, but the global order that has been the bedrock of western stability since the end of the Second World War is shaking. NATO's commitment and resolve is under siege, Putin continues to flex Russia's military muscle in Eastern Europe in a seemingly vain attempt to reinvent the Soviet Empire, and the U.N., after failing to react in any substantial way to the ongoing refugee crisis is clinging to whatever prestige it has left. And throughout all of this, American leadership has been occupied by a selective but futile airstrike campaign in the Middle East.

In the snake pits of foggy bottom, the finger pointing is already under way. With his usual panache, Niall Ferguson has argued that the President's belief in the superiority of his own judgment and his aversion to the so-called Washington Playbook of tit-for-tat diplomacy is to blame. And there is some truth there. When the Washington establishment from Secretary of State John Kerry to Susan Rice, Obama's own National Security Advisor, argued that we needed to cross the red line, President Obama walked the other way.

But then again, why should he have acted? Washington titans like former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq War, have found various reasons to disavow their support. Moreover, there was no international coalition of the willing standing up to join him. And if Nestor, a boastful character from Greek mythology, himself could have conjured the last piece of resounding evidence to argue against intervention, it could have been hardly better than Obama's explanation, that the support of the American public for another war was simply non-existent. With supposed shrewdness, Obama backed down and instead opted for drone targeted attacks, carefully avoiding his Iraq or Vietnam disaster. Or so he thought.

Yet the use of drone warfare and airstrikes is not without severe collateral damage and growing legal concern. As Senator Kaine pointed out, in a notable disagreement with his running mate Hilary Clinton, the U.S. may lack the legal authority to carry airstrikes against Libya. If the military assault is to continue the Congress would have to authorize it and place limits on its extent and an exit strategy. More importantly, such tactics undermine our leadership role - using the threat system instead of propagating peace, economic development, education and liberal values.

Taking a long-term perspective, the U.S. must assess whether continued military engagement in the Middle East is even productive for our national security. After all, the nature of war has shifted drastically in this online age that has created new digital microcosms for extremism to fester. Moreover, radicalization is a very complex threat to identify much less defend against; good and bad people can become radicalized as the result of grief, revenge, antagonism, mental instability and a culmination of many other factors. Seamus Hughes from George Washington's Program on Extremism, lamented about the recent surge of American recruits to jihadism that there was " no clear profile. The path to radicalization wasn't linear or predictable." Because the radicalized lone wolves do not have a nucleus of command and control, it is difficult to create a coherent military strategy to defeat them. While drones and aerial bombing may eliminate their targets, ultimately they are not effective because the bombings of villages naturally foster more radicalization and serve to inflame the very problem we wish to address.

It follows that the Western nations could be engulfed in an "endless war" and sustain damages that are hard to protect against. The Western nations should also be cognizant of the damages their own governments inflict upon the third world nations. President Obama may have avoided his war of entanglement, but he is presiding over one of the largest humanitarian disasters of this century.