Losing the Post-Cold War

Today, regrettably, what is equally clear is that while the Cold War was won, through the Obama administration’s actions and inactions, it's arrogance and lack of strategic vision, the period known to all as the Post-Cold War, has been lost.

Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with an overwhelming international embrace.  Within weeks of sitting down at the Resolute Desk, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.  He drew huge crowds in Germany as a candidate and in Cairo, early in his first term, he spoke to a welcoming and enthusiastic audience.  But today, the Obama administration looks to those around the world as a confused and defeated power.

In the Middle East, we have lost the confidence of Gulf State allies as we stood by in Syria as tens of thousands died and so clumsily handled events in Libya and Egypt that in each country, greater instability exists, providing a possible breeding ground for radical Islamic terrorists.  This while the administration would have you believe that the threat of terrorism ended with the death of Osama bin Laden and the increase in drone strikes on Pakistan.

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The United States became the principal actor in the Middle East following the Suez Crisis (1956), replacing the colonial powers of France and the United Kingdom.  We were at our peak of influence at the end of the Cold War, able to bring together a coalition of 32 nations willing to put troops in the field during the Persian Gulf War.   The current administration, through its demonstrated unwillingness to stand with allies or stand up to adversaries, looks to Moscow to save us from unkept commitments, and could only manage to get France and Turkey to sign on for a strike against the Assad regime.

In Europe, those countries west of Vienna that longed for Obama now see a president unable to lead on domestic financial issues, putting at risk Europe's shaky economic recovery.  Rather than American policy championing a dynamic economy full of innovation set to lead the global economy, they see a Congress and a President unwilling to settle differences for the good of all.  This does not set the United States up as a country or a system for others to follow.

East of Vienna, in what Donald Rumsfeld famously called "new Europe," things could hardly be worse. Obama started with his naive and - as it turns out - costly Russia reset. The Administration appeared to many to go out of their way to show that they were focused on Moscow's cooperation on the Korean Peninsula and Iran at the expense of countries that felt most threatened by Moscow.  Relations with Turkey are as bad as at any point since the first World War and in Azerbaijan, a country vital to Europe's energy security, the Obama administration tacks between ignoring and insulting this majority Shia country so vital to our interests in Europe, Afghanistan and the broader Middle East.  Also damaging was the administration’s reversal on missile defense, leaving allies who agreed to host the systems as well as Moscow feeling bitter and betrayed.

With our position damaged in Europe and the Middle East, we look next to Asia.  It was the "Asia pivot" that Obama constructed to turn away from the complicated Middle East and his version of showing disinterest for "Old Europe.”   But it also reflected the importance of the fast growing Asian economies.  Regrettably, poor execution has undermined the Asia pivot almost from the beginning.  It's announcement - at a military academy - and thus far sole deliverable - Marines in Australia - look like a policy dreamed up at a Cold War era SEATO conference rather than one reflecting the realities of the 21st century.

If the Obama administration has lost the Post-Cold War, who has won and what is next.  It's wrong to think that our slide from power, from preeminence, has resulted in another country replacing the US globally.   It's true that China or even Russia have been made stronger regionally which may or may not advance our interests or those of the global community.  But the result of losing the Post-Cold War is greater international chaos, less liberty and greater threats to our vital interests.

Merkel is a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and a Director on the National Security Council staff during the administration of President George W. Bush.