U.S. Foreign Policy Failures:
Undermining Democracy and Human Rights
The U.S. administration has frequently acted contrary to professed principles of democracy and human rights, empowering authoritarian regimes as freedom has declined worldwide.
Photo: ruined school, Yemen
April 9, 2023. Updated April 10, 2023.
On a lucrative trip to Australia in March 2023, former President Barack Obama claimed that China’s increasingly aggressive attitude developed opportunistically “once [he] left office” as the subsequent US president allegedly “didn’t seem to care that much about a rules-based international system.”
Such claims ignore the breakdown of the rules-based system of international order that occurred under his own presidency, as well as that of his predecessor and the presidential administration of his then-vice president. Those who witnessed the deterioration of international law as authoritarians saw opportunity under Obama’s leadership recognize historical revisionism. The past four U.S. presidents from Bush to Biden, both Republicans and Democrats, have presided over successive deteriorations in the international rule of law and human rights as a result of their administrations' foreign policies.
The Obama administration’s failure to act on its supposed “red line” of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government “assured crisis” and perpetuated a totalitarian regime that had been on the brink of collapse. Obama stated at the time that “if we fail to act… other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring...and using” chemical weapons. Yet the Obama administration did not act despite chemical weapons, nor Syria and Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians that reduced major cities like Aleppo to rubble and created dire humanitarian crises which persist years later. It was largely idle while Yezidis, Christians, and ethnic and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq experienced genocide at the hands of ISIS.
Russia and Ukraine
Obama mocked Romney’s warnings that Russia was a major geopolitical adversary and told then-Russian President Medvedev in hot-mic comments that he would have “more flexibility” to make concessions to Russia after the election.
And make concessions Obama did. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, seized Crimea and initiated war in the Donbas, Obama dishonored US obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which it agreed to serve as a guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal. Obama failed even to provide basic defensive arms to Ukraine, rejecting the recommendations of his own senior national security officials and leading then-Ukrainian President Poroshenko to state: “We can’t win a war with blankets.” Even following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the administration continued to pay Russia billions of US taxpayer dollars for rocketry and collaborate on dual-use technology Russia used to kill civilians in Syria and then Ukraine.
Turkish president Erdogan noted in 2022 that the West could have stopped Putin at Crimea during the Obama administration, but that “the insufficient response from the West to the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 led to Russia’s current full-scale war.”
James Kirchuk of the left-leaning Brookings Institution acknowledged in 2017 that “the Obama administration’s Russia policy was one, protracted, eight-year-long concession to Moscow.”
Between 2015 and 2020, the U.S. sold over $64 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute noted of the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen which has killed at least a quarter million:
“Barack Obama could have stopped the war at its start in 2015 by cutting off military, diplomatic, and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition that imposed a blockade on Yemen and began deadly air strikes on civilian targets.”
When brave Iranian protesters called for aid against the totalitarian regime in 2009, the Obama administration did nothing as they were massacred. Obama has since admitted that his failure to offer even verbal support was a mistake, but one now repeated by Biden. Obama acknowledged his “lack of public support for the 2009 protests as a missed opportunity to back the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people,” admitting that ““There is deep dissatisfaction with the Iranian regime,” stating:
’Every time we see a flash, a glimmer of hope, of people longing for freedom, I think we have to point it out. We have to shine a spotlight on it. We have to express some solidarity about it.’”
Yet the Obama administration was one of the Iranian regime’s greatest benefactors, releasing billions in oil revenue which Iran used to carry out terror sprees and permitting Iran to enrich uranium while forbidding U.S. allies.
2009-2016 US Foreign Policy Redux
Obama got it wrong on virtually every critical international conflict of his presidency. His administration sent billions in arms to Saudi Arabia to support a war of aggression that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and mass starvation of children, denied defensive arms to Ukraine despite Russian aggression, failed to protect civilians in Syria against chemical weapons, allowed Iran to enrich uranium and receive billions in cash, and denied pro-democracy protesters in Iran even words of moral support.
With such policies, it is little surprise that the Freedom in the World score worsened every year during the Obama administration as democracies declined globally and authoritarian states ascended unchecked. His too-little, too-late hindsights after a policy of appeasement offer no justice for the many who have died and the millions who remain enslaved.
Politicians’ self-serving false narratives are unsurprising. More troubling is that blatant historical revisionism has stood unchallenged by the institutions tasked with holding them accountable, including much of the press, non-governmental democracy and human rights groups, and even the political opposition. These relatively recent events are abundantly documented but are rarely mentioned in contemporary public discourse.
2021-Present: Diminishing U.S. Stature Abroad
Despite a record of major failures in democracy and human rights, Obama has been widely hailed as a celebrity abroad and has amassed a fortune in speaking fees. President Biden, formerly Obama’s vice president, has repeatedly antagonized historical allies and non-alignment nations, fueling anger and ridicule from foreign leaders. The harms of the Trump (2017-2020) and Bush (2001-2009) years are addressed in a separate essay.
Mexico’s leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (himself an election denier who never accepted the results of the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections) mocked Biden by playing the song “Uy, qué miedo” [“Ooh, so scared”] during a press conference about an energy dispute with the United States. Notwithstanding that the United States is Mexico’s largest trade partner and that remissions from Mexican expatriates in the U.S. have long constituted the largest single item in Mexico’s GDP, López Obrador readily portrayed the U.S. president as an object of ridicule not to be taken seriously.
Yet he is no brave man. Faced with a multi-year escalation in violence by criminal cartels resulting in Mexico having the fourth highest murder rate in the world in 2023, and the murder of at least 88 Mexican politicians between September 2020 and May 2021, López Obrador did not crack down on violent criminal cartels threatening Mexican democracy and depriving citizens of their choice. Instead, he doubled down on his “hugs not bullets” approach of tolerance and accommodation to criminal gangs which has failed Mexico. López Obrador is deeply afraid of his own country’s criminal cartels but has only contempt for his northern “superpower” neighbor.
In April 2023, López Obrador wrote to communist China - not the neighboring United States - for help tackling Mexico’s fentanyl crisis while attacking the United States for “an absurd, manipulative, propagandistic and demagogic attitude.”
For decades, the U.S. has enabled and shielded Saudi Arabia’s totalitarian government, long recognized as one of the world’s worst human rights violators and an exporter of violent religious extremism worldwide. The U.S. government long blocked release of documents regarding the Saudi government’s involvement with the 9/11 terrorists. The Obama administration “welcomed” Saudi Arabia to head the U.N. Human Rights Council, notwithstanding it being one of the worst violators, and suppressed a State Department report on religious hatred being taught in Saudi textbooks.
In “The Sweeping Impact of a Broken Campaign Promise,” Robin Wright wrote in the reliably leftist New Yorker that the CIA confirmed that the Saudi prince personally ordered the killing, and that “by not holding Saudi Arabia's leader to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the President [Biden] has emboldened despots worldwide.”
In response to criticism of Saudi Arabia by U.S. Democrats, a nephew of the Saudi king threatened the West in a viral video in English and French that “we are all projects of jihad and martyrdom.”
In the vacuum left by US disengagement, Saudi Arabia looked to China to broker normalization of relations with Iran in April 2023.Yet U.S. administration officials and many foreign policy “experts” have continued to treat China and even Russia and Iran as if they were responsible international partners rather than totalitarian states with anti-democratic agendas. Politico reports that the U.S. administration and diplomatic services view it as “Win-win’: Washington is just fine with the China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal” so that the U.S. could focus energy and resources elsewhere. What could possibly go wrong?
More sober analyses, including by the New York Times, Business Insider, and the New York Post, acknowledge that the Chinese deal “upends Middle East diplomacy and challenges the U.S.”, requires the US to “change its strategy or get left behind,” and that “The US hands China the Middle East at its own peril,” respectively. One commentator noted “the grave stupidity of abandoning Saudi Arabia to China.”
Obama’s catastrophic error of deferring to Russia to “stabilize” the situation in Syria after Assad’s use of chemical weapons did not stabilize the situation, but allowed the pro-Russian Syrian proxy government to retain power, exacerbated the humanitarian catastrophe, and led to years of scorched-earth tactics against civilians which Russia has since employed in Ukraine. Within days of delusional claims by US officials that the China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal was a “win-win,” the supreme leader of Iran boasted that “Israel’s demise is coming sooner than [he] expected” and “Iran kickstart[ed] a multi-front Middle East war against Israel” through its proxies and allies.
Diminishing conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has not stabilized the region, but only allowed Iran to intensify its terror elsewhere. This has included but is not limited to Iran’s provision of drones and missiles to Russia for aggression against Ukraine, attacks on U.S. troops and contractors in Syria, and proxy war against Israel.
Under Turkey’s authoritarian ruler and Islamic extremist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has increasingly engaged in human rights abuses and suppression of ethnic minorities. Erdogan has repeatedly incited against Western democracies, denied Turkey’s genocide and atrocities against Armenias, threatened war against fellow NATO member Greece, and blocked Sweden’s accession to NATO for providing asylum to Turkish human rights activists. Turkey has helped Russia to evade sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, perpetuating the conflict and undermining international law.
Erdogan’s Turkey has increasingly enabled and sponsored Islamic extremism. Erdogan has repeatedly expressed greater solidarity with totalitarian Islamic dictatorships than with Western democracies, telling Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in April 2023 that the “Muslim world must unite against Israel.”
Erdogan has engaged in arbitrary arrests of political opposition and has engaged in pre-election fraud and media manipulation, among other acts to rig elections that are neither free nor fair in his favor.
In April 2023, Erdogan claimed that Turkey “needed to teach the U.S. a lesson” after U.S. officials met with the opposition candidate who is leading Erdogan in the polls. Days later, Turkey conducted drone strikes against US-Kurdish alliance forces in Syria near a convoy containing U.S. military personnel. The Biden administration has at the time of this writing failed even to respond to threats and military action against it by a NATO member and ostensible ally.
Joe Biden became the first U.S. President in history to be held in contempt by the parliament of the United Kingdom, which condemned his conduct over the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “catastrophic” and “shameful.”
The Biden administration’s abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban with the loss of basic human rights for over forty million Afghans, duplicitous instructions to the Afghan president to lie about the situation for U.S. political optics, and botched withdrawal are covered in a separate article. It is little coincidence that within a month of the botched U.S. Afghanistan debacle, Russia began moving troops to the borders of Ukraine to prepare for invasion.
CNN National Security Analyst noted that "Biden's Afghanistan exit decision looks even worse a year later," with massive losses in basic human right for Afghans and “no way to "help Afghans without propping up the Taliban in some manner…realistically any help that the US sends to Afghanistan tends to help the Taliban remain in power.”
The most damning features of the Biden administration’s self-serving 12 page “analysis” of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle are, first, its failure to make any consideration of the basic human rights of the Afghan people, and second, the failure to acknowledge U.S. promises and representations which were made to the Afghans, coalition partners, the international community over a period of 20 years. This conduct has led to breakdown of international credibility of the United States and deterrence of prospective partners far more compellingly in the propaganda of an adversary.
The United States’ oldest ally, France, expressed fury in September 2021 when a behind-the-scenes deal between the U.S., the U.K and Australia that was “months in the making” led Australia reneged on a $40 billion submarine deal with France for submarines. Unsurprisingly, conciliatory words from the Biden administration did not compensate for the massive economic loss. Nick Lokker observed in late 2022 that "relations between the U.S. and France are worse than they appear."
Prior solidarity between the ostensible allies has broken down as France has sought new paths. For the first time in history, in March 2023 a natural gas trade was completed through the Shanghai exchange denominated in Yuan rather than dollars; the trade was completed by France. This is part of a “de-dollarization campaign led by China and Russia. Tiana Lowe wrote:
“The process of ‘dedollarization’ explicitly aims to unseat the dollar as the reserve currency of Russia and, in the long run, that of the world…The problem isn't the oil sanction campaign against Russian oil, without which the rest of our Ukraine funding would have been neutralized. Rather, the crime is the White House's refusal to allow us to fill the Russian void of oil supply and Biden's willingness to completely cede diplomatic ground to the Chinese….[Biden’s] refusal to assert American agency abroad comes with real costs, not just for our citizens, but for all holders of the dollar worldwide.”
Although the United States has benefitted from low rates on its public debt and strong currency globally due substantially to the U.S. dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency, Biden policies have enabled a growing global movement to dump the dollar in favor of the Chinese Yuan. This transition will decrease U.S. influence worldwide, make foreign autocracies increasingly resilient to Western sanctions, and explode the cost of U.S. debt.
France long supported coalition forces in Afghanistan. In yet another fallout of the Biden Afghanistan debacle, French President Macron stated in April 2023 through President Macron that France would not be a “follower” of either the U.S. or China on Taiwan, citing the importance of “strategic autonomy” and need to avoid entanglement in “crises that aren't ours." Increasingly, France and many other European nations have come to regard their treatment by the U.S. in supporting missions in Afghanistan and Iraq – in which U.S. forces were unceremoniously withdrawn and leaving citizens of both countries
The abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and to a great extent also Iraq, without “making the world safe for democracy” and protecting basic human rights as long publicly represented, has led many Europeans to consider the United States’ use of their militaries in coalition support missions to be exploitative and duplicitous. The loss of U.S. credibility has severely impaired the trust and confidence of U.S. allies.
In March 2023, Brazil reached an agreement with China to trade using the Chinese Yuan and Brazilian Real, dropping the U.S. dollar as an intermediary. China has been Brazil’s top trading partner since 2009 and largest export market; Brazil is also the “largest recipient of Chinese investment in Latin America.”
The nonpartisan national security analytics group 1945 noted that Vice President Kamala “Harris’ Ghana excursion was a disaster.” After a “bizarre and meandering” speech and “caterwauling about America’s inherent sin” and presenting a $100 million handout from American taxpayers to the Ghanese government, “Harris was humiliated by her Ghanese host.” Weichert observed:
“There was a time when this sort of behavior would have never occurred because the American leadership was so feared and respected that a tiny, impoverished, developing nation like Ghana would have never dared to embarrass the American leadership. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, sadly, those days are done. And Harris isn’t helping the cause of US diplomacy with her pedantic, incomprehensible, and meaningless speeches. She’s likely simply reaffirming the world’s lack of confidence in President Biden’s leadership and prompting these nations—as the Ghanese leader indicated—to make new economic and strategic calculations designed to empower China at America’s expense.”
Yet such claims ignore the destruction of the rules-based system of international order that occurred under his own presidency, as well as that of his predecessor and the presidential administration of his then-vice president.
Nigeria and Tunisia
Instead of advocating for open democracy with free and fair elections worldwide, the Biden Administration has lent an air of legitimacy to fraudulent elections in Nigeria and Tunisia.
The Biden administration has illegally sent millions to the Palestinian Authority without requiring the PA to stop payments to terrorists and their families, violating the 2018 Taylor Force Act and incentivizing “pay for slay” killings, glorification of terrorism, and ethnic and religious incitement to hatred.
By appeasing and offering concessions to authoritarian states and terrorist regimes, such as the disastrous trade of convicted arms dealer “Merchant of Death” Victor Bout for an American athlete caught with marijuana, the Biden administration has incentivized more arbitrary arrests of Americans abroad which is already occurring.
The List Goes On
Indian author Abhijit Majumder provides numerous additional examples of “America as a fading superpower.” Majumder notes that the U.S. was mocked in Zambia during Kamala Harris’ visit and that India has also rebuffed the Biden Administration’s requests. While we do not agree with Majumer’s take on Russian aggression against Ukraine and various other claims, he offers an interesting perspective shared by many in India and other nations. Majumder observed:
“All this combined has seriously weakened America’s hegemony in geopolitics and shaken its place in the world of ideas…The American wagon is rapidly heading for a place nobody is sure they know.”
On issue after issue, the United States has failed to stand up for human rights and democracy around the world, instead acting contrary to its professed principles and acquiescing to autocracy. This approach has increasingly alienated historical allies and unaligned nations. The U.S. administration has prioritized recriminations against domestic political opponents over protection of human rights and democracy internationally. Authoritarian regimes have been emboldened by U.S. weakness and have seized the opportunity to engage in aggression and atrocities. The decline of U.S. credibility and influence worldwide reflect current and past foreign policy.
The oppressed and disadvantaged in much of the world who are persecuted and oppressed by authoritarian governments because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, and desire for freedom have no one to advocate for them. The repeated failure of the United States and traditional guardians of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law to stand up for them with tangible, effective action has contributed to human suffering and made the world less just and free.
The result is a more dangerous world in which free and fair democracy and basic human rights are more at risk than at any time since the Second World War. The pattern of malfeasance from U.S. administrations and the lack of basic insights from the leadership of both major U.S. political parties point to a continued downward trajectory for human rights and democracy worldwide.
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