By Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky, CNN
Vice President Joe Biden boiled the Obama reelection victory down to a bumper sticker: "Osama bin Laden is dead. And General Motors is alive."
In other words, Obama was reelected, at least in part, because of his foreign policy and national security credentials.
But in his new book, "The Dispensable Nation," Vali Nasr – a former member of President Obama's foreign policy team – offers a sharp indictment of Obama’s approach to foreign engagement.
Currently, Nasr is the dean of the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and he says that under President Obama, America is in retreat.
“Our administration's narrative has been that we need to do less in the world,” Nasr told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “We don't need to take leadership on varieties of issues around the world, that American leadership is no longer necessary and that critical areas of the world, such as the Middle East, are not as important as they were. And we need to focus on things at home.”
While Nasr admitted the United States was “over focused” militarily in the Middle East, he said the country has actually ignored the Middle East in terms of economic, diplomatic, political engagement.
Nasr spent his career focusing on issues abroad. He served as special adviser to Richard Holbrooke, who was Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama’s approach to handling the Middle East is coming at the price of Syrian lives and the protracted civil war there, Nasr told Amanpour.
“It's also a highly destabilizing sentiment, because you can't go from being everything to all of a sudden being nothing. That creates turbulence,” Nasr said. “Even if we are going to reduce our footprint in the Middle East, we should do it in a right way and we should do it gradually in a way that it doesn't actually cause problems.”
The Obama doctrine comes on the heels of a decade of mishandling in the Middle East Nasr contends, on everything from Iraq to Afghanistan.
“Our approach to Afghanistan was driven by American attitudes towards the Iraq War and then the president's reading of American attitudes towards economic issues at home” Nasr said.
In other words, the decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and then turn around and withdrawal them the following year was “largely driven by the tempo of domestic policy,” Nasr said. “It had nothing to do with whether we were winning the war or not winning the war.”
America’s so-called “pivot to Asia” may also cost the U.S. dearly, Nasr believes.
“The administration thinks that we should focus a lot more on Asia because that's where China is; that's where money is. That's where trade is.”
He admits that’s true, but said that the U.S. can’t afford to ignore the Middle East, not to mention the fact that China is focusing investments and increasing engagement in the Middle East.
“Just as we are pivoting East, China is pivoting West,” Nasr said.
This might even affect how foreign governments perceive American strength, including leaders like North Korea’s Kim-Jong Un.
“He sees an American foreign policy that is very loud and clear in saying we don't want conflict. We're risk-averse. We don't want to take leadership. We don't want to get engaged in people's troubles,” Nasr said of Kim. “So he thinks he has a lot of room to push.”
The same could be true in Iran, Nasr believes. As that country’s leaders watch, they too may believe that America is only willing to go as far as sanctions and could stop short of, yet another, military intervention in the Middle East.