On Monday Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying "I told you so" on Russia -- that they are our greatest geopolitical opponent. When he first said so during a presidential debate with President Obama, he was widely ridiculed and Obama riposted with "the 80s called, and they want their foreign policy back". Well, Romney was right, and now he gets to rub the President's face in it.
Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite--and wring our hands.
Iran is following North Korea's nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result.
Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin's sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.
And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us--with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?
Why, across the world, are America's hands so tied?
A large part of the answer is our leader's terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."
Romney is right: the reason we have "no good options" now is that Obama's foreign policy didn't protect our decision space. If I were to play chess with Garry Kasparov it might look (to a naive observer) as if nothing much happened for a while... but then I'd quickly find myself with no good options. I wouldn't run out of good moves because of misfortune, acts of God, or inevitability -- I would run out of good moves because I would be outmaneuvered and outplayed. That's where America is now. We've been strategically outmaneuvered and outplayed by our geopolitical opponents, and it's only becoming obvious now that we're out of good moves.
Final thought: maybe we should try to get some Reagan-era foreign policy going?