Matters have become even worse since the end of the Cold War. U.S. forces have intervened in places as diverse as Panama, Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and the Persian Gulf, and Washington’s formal and informal security commitments have expanded enormously. America’s strategic over‐extension and muddled priorities reached new levels under George W. Bush, with the utopian goal of implanting democracy in the Middle East and other unpromising regions.
America’s foreign policy cries out for drastic change, but it remains uncertain whether president‐elect Obama will bring the right kind of change. Many of his foreign‐policy positions are sketchy, and in those cases where he has provided details, there are as many reasons for uneasiness and skepticism as there are for hope and confidence.
He shows no willingness, for example, to reconsider Washington’s commitment to the hoary North Atlantic alliance. Indeed, he advocates further expansion of NATO, including membership for Ukraine and Georgia, despite the certainty of provoking Russia. Obama has praised NATO’s interventions in both Bosnia and Kosovo during the Clinton years, and he embraced the February 2008 decision to grant Kosovo independence over Moscow’s vehement objections.
His attitude is most unfortunate, since many U.S. policies reek of obsolescence or misplaced priorities. For example, Obama’s reflexive enthusiasm for NATO ignores mounting evidence that the alliance lacks either the cohesion or strategic rationale to play a worthwhile security role in the twenty‐first century. NATO’s bumbling performance in Afghanistan is only the most visible example. Worse, adding small‐security clients creates dangerous liabilities for the United States as the leader of the alliance. An obligation to defend Georgia, for instance, could entangle America in the deservedly obscure dispute between Tbilisi and Moscow over the status of Georgia’s secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. President Obama should ask himself how risking a confrontation with a nuclear‐armed power over such meager stakes would benefit America.