America’s lack of leadership is feeding global instability

The growth of global instability and volatility is undeniable, so is the need for America’s leadership. However, the problem is not just lack of leadership, but an apparent confusion about actual policies that leadership necessitates. Actions by a superpower (the U.S. is still a superpower) should be realistic and strategic, as well as driven by interest and objective.

Introduction of elections in Gaza, for instance, produced a terrorist Hamas authority, which repeatedly attacked Israel and, caused death and destruction amongst their own people. Egypt is another example. The radical and bloody Muslim Brotherhood was brought to power by an election.

Some would argue that voting freely is more important than anything else, while forgetting that security and peace are necessary for that, not to mention that the voters need to be alive.

Similarly, America’s expedited withdrawal from Iraq, half-hearted (some would say half-witted) actions in Syria, half-measured responses to ISIL, and decisive but somewhat pointless intervention in Libya helped deepen divisions and add fuel to civil wars. Should U.S. abandon Afghanistan, again when the outcome is just as predictable?

Strangely, the U.S makes little distinction between a friend and a foe. Note the increasingly comfortable relationship between Washington and Teheran, this against the background of the former’s conspicuous tension with Israel. If there is one lesson the administration can learn from its one time buddy Turkish PM Erdogan is that his policy of “zero problems with neighbors” ended up with having zero neighbors without problems.

After the 2008 war in Georgia, Washington’s insistence on the “reset” policy was seen as a sign of weakness by the Russians, both because of different political mentalities and because it was hard to see it otherwise.

Also puzzling is Washington’s reluctance to engage with actual allies. One example is Azerbaijan, the key player in the fragile geopolitical equilibrium in Eurasia. This fiercely independent country’s choice of partners in the currently fluid situation may determine the future of the region. Squeezed by Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan is the nation Georgia depends upon economically, the main westward energy transit route for energy-rich Central Asia and an imperative political partner to all. In this line up of realpolitik posturing, one absentee is the United States.

Seemingly having learned nothing from the debauchery of the “Arab Spring,” Washington is too eager to criticize Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani authorities, no doubt, can be overzealous and the opposition should be treated better. However, even with all its faults, Azerbaijan is scolded more than others much faultier. A good portion of this stems from Armenian activists, who are eager to emphasize Azerbaijan’s flaws rather than the spectacular failure of Armenia’s statehood. It is hard to see how Armenia can be characterized as an independent state when it is clear that it has evolved to become a vassal state of the Russia and a close ally of Iran.

These activists are the same people who push for a second Armenian state, also destined to fail. This one in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh region, internationally recognized as Azerbaijan and illegally occupied by Armenia.

Negativity gets ratings. From personal attacks to constant and bitter criticism, U.S. tax payer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) is the champion. Similar to Russia Today’s (Russian’s very polished and high tech propaganda machine) view of the United States, RFERL sees little that is positive about Azerbaijan. Journalists pursuing an agenda may be understandable. Why this should transpire at tax payer expense to the detriment of U.S. interests is not understandable.

Unlike Russia Today, which has a clear anti-American mandate, and Al-Jazeera, which covers up Qatari dirty dealings with radicals, RFERL has lost its focus and, depending on the preferences of its language services, purposefully undermines America’s relations with other nations.

Ironically, those criticizing foreign governments for spending money on lobbying to promote stronger ties with U.S. never ask a logical question… why do the tax-payers spend millions on a major organization in Prague and hire hundreds of foreigners with expat allowances to challenge governments, which are often friendly to us? One may argue that an independent media is a pillar of democracy. Of course, and media freedom throughout Eurasia remains a problem. But the paradox is that neither RFERL nor Russia Today are independent.

Perhaps, we should break the recent habit of tactical superficiality and conveniently myopic vision, which is harming America’s prestige and costing lives worldwide, and return to what has made the U.S. the world’s only superpower – strategic and responsible global leadership.

Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a consultancy that advises foreign governments, NGOs and corporations in the realms of strategic communications, politics and policy. He is also the former head of Public Affairs and Public Relations for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.

Editor’s note on Aug. 18, 2015 — Katz is paid to provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan. This note was added after Katz’s foreign agent registration was brought to the attention of The Hill.