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Is America giving the cold shoulder to the world?

April 22nd, 2013
01:57 PM ET

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.


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soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. mimi champlin

    I completely disagree. I am an average American citizen. I am hated the world over because of Bush and his horrendous lies and wars. I do NOT want to patrol Syria with my dollars, efforts and American lives. I want us OUT of wars and focused on our own land. I say UP YOURS to those who believe we need to police the entire gd world.

    April 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  2. kingdomosas

    There is a difference between 'structure' and 'process'. And both ends gulp lots of state's fund. Structure (in this case) involves, the U.S. strategic relationships and bases across the globe, while process involves the physical redeployment of U.S. forces, to enforcing and ensuring global peace and order. I believe that the Obama administration has retained the foreign policy structure of America but curtailing the process, so that priorites can be attended to, in the face of the present economic realities of America. I believe that Vali Nasr's position is a reflection of an 'ego-ridden mindset' of a good number of U.S. analysts. It is vain to think that you can be world police at the expense of your economy. A very untactful reasoning quotient. – O.D.I.

    April 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  3. Eric

    I agree with Mimi, I am an Air Force Veteran and I believe that the United States needs to focus on our own problems at home and stop playing the role of "World Police". We have been spending far too much of our budget/tax dollars on military spending overseas. Sure, bad things may happen when withdraw, but we can't control the situation forever by maintaining troops all over the world in "troubled" areas (and its not our responsibility). We have been in a poor financial situation for years now, thanks in large part to our huge military spending. Now my brother in-law is being kicked out of the Army (with many, many others) because they need to cut their budget. He has 6 kids with one on the way, this is our governments solution to cut their military spending. Never mind the billions and billions they spend on supporting the infrastructure it takes to maintain this madness. It is a challenging time to be an American.

    April 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • GenHanky

      It should be clear by this point that the US needs to reduce military spending. We spend more annually than the next 10 countries combined. Everything should be reduced...including personnel. I'm sorry to hear about your brother in law, but perhaps some of the savings could go to CONSTRUCTIVE rather than DESTRUCTIVE policies. Maybe infrastructure or R&D. It's estimated the USA needs a total of $4 trillion in repairs/maintenance to get infrastructure to grade. Yet the military industrial complex will probaly no let that happen... *sigh*

      Oh, and PS...SEVEN kids?!? Yikes, that's a lot of nieces and nephews. Sorry, but it kind of gets under people's skin when people bring up how many kids someone CHOOSES to have. Sheesh, if you can afford 7 kids, knock yourself out. But probably shouldn't rely on a military salary to support them.. IMHO

      April 23, 2013 at 3:36 am | Reply
  4. kingdomosas

    Reblogged this on kingdomosas and commented:
    There is a difference between 'structure' and 'process'. And both ends gulp lots of state's fund. Structure (in this case) involves, the U.S. strategic relationships and bases across the globe, while process involves the physical redeployment of U.S. forces, to enforcing and ensuring global peace and order. I believe that the Obama administration has retained the foreign policy structure of America but curtailing the process, so that priorites can be attended to, in the face of the present economic realities of America. I believe that Vali Nasr's position is a reflection of an 'ego-ridden mindset' of a good number of U.S. analysts. It is vain to think that you can be world police at the expense of your economy. A very untactful reasoning quotient. – O.D.I

    April 22, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  5. Gogodalls

    Bush was right for attacking on Afghanistan because we don't want global Radical Islamic terrorism ! We don't want countries like North Korea and Iran to be powerful. It was important for United States to demonstrate its power in afghanistan just like it was important for it to demonstrate its power during World War 2. Even though i support President Obama on other reforms i don't like his policy in Afghanistan . We need to make sure Al Qaeda is completely wiped out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Afghanistan have a proper democratic government ! We should also not negotiate with North Korea.. instead drop a Nuke and end the story once and for all..!

    April 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • KP

      Next time we nuke anyone, there will be a big number of countries looking for nukes as a deterrent.
      Like it or not that is a fact.

      April 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  6. KP

    Afghanistan was a just war, it was not planed or executed properly.
    Iraq was unjust and a disaster. democracy or not.

    April 22, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  7. raj

    Its a fact that every country need to sort out his own problems first there is no point in policing the world when you have shoot outs and bombings at home same goes for india we neither police out the world nor able to keep the henious crimes against woman at bay some day its the socitey some say lack of police lack of proper judicial process the bottom line the country is hitting a large unemployment the difference between rich and poor getting windened people without work and jobs will be thugs more invloved in drinking and crimes the situation now has turned so bad that a five year old baby has been a victim something is drastically wrong and need a change , get new jobs get people busy and make them earn their living , educate kids from primary to respect woman and humans , bridge the gap is something which can be done by the elected leaders but alas its not happening , keep your kids safe and escorted is norm for today hope to see some change , no society is 100% crime free have good judiciary punishment must be immediate the other case highlighted the accused is a minor if he is able to commit rape how come he is a minor change laws for betterment long way to go as we say mera bharath mahan..

    April 23, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
  8. Melissa S

    I am an American living abroad due to my husbands career. I feel that America needs to focus on issues at home. How can a nation be effective if their own homeland suffers with some of the same issues they are attempting to solve in other countries. I don't want to dumb it down but in a sense it's much like if I visit a neighbors home and I take notice that their house is somewhat of a mess. I help them clean and tidy up their place, buy them updated appliances or even food. But then at the same time my own house is a mess, my own appliances need to be updated and I can't always feed myself. There should be a solid foundation on the ground inwhich you stand before you try to help or assisst someone else. Even on a plane make sure your mask is secure before you attempt to secure someone elses mask. Sure the world needs our attention but their are several ways that we can contribute while still taking care of our own homeland. America the Great will not always be if we don't look after ourselves when we desperately need to do so. So we should withdraw from war and financial support and focus on home. In a way its not personal it's just business to take care of your own problems before you attempt to solve others problems and issues.

    April 23, 2013 at 6:02 am | Reply
    • aurelius

      Both the author and you have valid point, even if they are contradictory. I guess it exemplifies the very dilemma we are in.

      April 23, 2013 at 6:54 am | Reply

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