Barack Obama

The Top 5 U.S. Foreign Policy Screw-Ups of 2012

From its policies in Libya to its approach to Syria, the Obama administration has been a disappointment on the world stage in 2012.


President Barack Obama came into office promising a foreign policy different from his predecessor, but after four years, U.S. interventionism is no less common than it was during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

The Obama administration is preparing to assist the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States in fighting Al Qaeda militants in Mali, while at the same time recognizing Syria's opposition, which is supported by rebels with links to Al Qaeda. Just this morning it was announced that hundreds of U.S. troops are in Turkey as part of a NATO mission, a little after a week after the USS Eisenhower was moved off the coast of Syria. The drone strike program continues despite its effects on innocent civilians and the damage it is doing to America's reputation.

Egypt will continue to receive U.S. military aid despite being in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Like the drone strike program, this policy threatens to undermine U.S. credibility among those that would be natural allies. Obama intervened in Libya last year, yet this year saw Libya dominate the news again thanks to an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. The administration's response to the attack highlighted the fiasco that is U.S. foreign policy.

The five instances listed here are only a sampling of this administration's foreign policy failures. There is little reason to be hopeful that 2013 will bring a sea change. 

1. Libya

The most notable foreign policy screw-up of 2012 was the Obama administration's handling of Libya. In March 2011 the Senate passed S.RES.85, asking the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Shortly thereafter Obama commenced military intervention as part of the NATO operation authorized by the U.N. National Security Council.

Thanks to NATO's intervention, the rebels defeated Gaddafi's forces. In October 2011, Gaddafi was killed by his former subjects, and another chapter in the Arab Spring saga had finished.

In September Libya came back into the spotlight after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was stormed, and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other members of the American diplomatic mission were killed.

The administration initially claimed the violence and murders were motivated by a trailer for an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. Yet it quickly became clear that something was seriously wrong with the administration's story about the attack.

Two days after the attack American warships moved into the area as drones hunted for Ambassador Stevens' murderers. Three days after the attack, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he thought the attack was the result of a terrorist plot, not a protest against a film. That same day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave an account of the attack that differed from the account other U.S. officials had given. Libyan officials, meanwhile, claimed that American diplomats were warned of the attack three days in advance. Despite the White House's story about spontaneous protests, the assault on the diplomatic compound was looking increasingly like a pre-planned terrorist attack.

Eight days after the attack, the Obama administration conceded it was the result of terrorism, something that Ambassador Stevens had been anticipating in the months before his death.

The Obama administration took way too long to come clean about the attack. Its inability to communicate the truth swiftly is frightening and indicative of the relationship between intelligence services, the administration, Congress, and the public is in dire need of repair. 


2. Syria

The U.S. recently joined dozens of other countries in recognizing the Syrian opposition. This was the same day it listed one rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, as a terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda.

Although the U.S. has not committed troops to Syria, the administration has hardly been quiet on the issue. The USS Eisenhower was moved off the coast of Syria a few days before Hillary Clinton insisted that Assad step down. Back in October as many as 150 "planners" were sent to Jordan to help with the refugee crisis and prepare to act in case Assad's regime used chemical weapons. The Syrian government has since looked even more likely to use the weapons, although Defense Secretary Panetta has recently downplayed the chances.

While Assad may well be an unpleasant actor in an unstable region, the administration has been too eager to support his opposition. As bad as Assad may be it is far from obvious that his opponents are saints. As mentioned above, there are Islamic extremists in the opposition's ranks, some of whom are fighting with weapons that the U.S. sent to Libya to help overthrow Gaddafi.

Assad is being supported by Shiite Hezbollah, and is enjoying additional support from Russia and Iran. The rebels are a mixture of many different groups including Sunni Islamic extremists and Kurdish nationalists. As tragic as the situation may be, the conflict remains one in which the U.S. is destined to anger and provoke unpleasant elements that could haunt us later.


3. Mali

Another country where the unintended consequences of NATO's intervention in Libya are on display is Mali, where Islamic extremists have taken over the north and are implementing Shariah.

During Libya's civil war, Gaddafi recruited mercenaries from neighboring countries like Chad. One group that Gaddafi looked to in particular was the Tuaregs. After Gaddafi's death, many Tuaregs went to northern Mali, where they helped form the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a group that advocates for the independence of the northern region of Mali. Militants with links to Al Qaeda have since pushed them out of the region:

The Tuareg rebels, largely armed by the remnants of deposed Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's arsenal, have since been pushed out by their onetime allies, the Islamists, proving no match for the firepower and determination of the jihadist fighters who now reign uncontested over northern Mali. Some of those Islamists are homegrown members of Ansar Dine, a group that has been supported by Al Qaeda, experts say. Others are believed to be part of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate known by the initials A.Q.I.M. that has a presence throughout the Sahel.

These Islamic extremists are causing unrest in the region and their actions have not gone unnoticed. France and the U.S. have both shown an interest in intervening in Mali, and it now looks as if an international force is being put together to remove Islamic extremists from northern Mali.

In fact, the U.S. has positioned itself as a key player in whatever international force that gets organized.  The AP reported last week that American officials were working with the African Union and ECOWAS, going so far as to send "planners" and is considering supporting countries that contribute troops to the effort.

The administration's failure in Mali has been its inability to leave it alone. Even were one to be inclined to think that a foreign invasion would be able to remove Islamic extremists and establish peace, other nations have already expressed an interest in such an endeavor. If the U.S. were to get more involved then we can only expect the anti-American rhetoric in the region and among Al Qaeda's ranks to grow stronger. Mali is an example of an annoying tendency this president has exhibited throughout this presidency, his insatiable need to do something in the light of events abroad. 

4. Drone Program

The hypocrisy and stupidity of this administration's foreign policy is perhaps best illustrated not by its incoherent rhetoric surrounding attacks on diplomats, its support of worrying elements in Assad's opposition, or its support for intervention in Mali, but by its use of a secretive drone program.

According to the New America Foundation, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed at least 210 and at most 333 people. Yemen has also seen its own share of drone activity, as has the Horn of Africa 

The drone strikes are far from popular in the countries affected, are constitutionally unsound, and are not helping in the fight to win hearts and minds.

Obama came into office offering a different foreign policy to his predecessor. Many of us are still waiting to see what the change has been, all while the anti-war movement remains largely silent.

Watch Nick Gillespie's take down of Samuel L. Jackson's vomit-inducing call to action, which highlights the violence perpetrated by this administration with glorified toys on foreign soil, below:

5. Egyptian F-16s

One of the most disturbing recent developments is the continued military support the Egyptian government is receiving from the U.S.

The Egyptian government will receive at least 20 F-16s as part of a 2010 $1 billion aid package in the middle of a constitutional crisis that has inspired protests similar to those of early 2011. Lt. Col. Wesley Miller defended the deal:

The delivery of the first set of F-16s in January 2013 reflects the U.S. commitment to supporting the Egyptian military's modernization efforts.  Egyptian acquisition of F-16s will increase our militaries' interoperability, and enhance Egypt's capacity to contribute to regional mission sets.

The current deal is similar to deals the U.S. made with former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, the U.S. supplied many of the weapons used to intimidate and put down Egyptian protesters during the Arab Spring (including F-16s).

The results of the Arab Spring will not be known for some time. Protests against an authoritarian regime have resulted in a democratically elected president who grants himself extra powers and insists on a referendum on a constitution many say is too Islamist. U.S. officials should consider how many Egyptians will view a country that gives military support to the likes of Mubarak and Morsi. It should be considered a huge foreign policy blunder that the U.S. has not halted the sale of F-16s to Egypt or at least renegotiated the conditions of the deal. 


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  1. If no one has left a comment you know even fewer have read the article.

  2. The hypocrisy and stupidity of this administration’s foreign policy is perhaps best illustrated not by its incoherent rhetoric surrounding attacks on diplomats, its support of worrying elements in Assad’s opposition, or its support for intervention in Mali, but by its use of a secretive drone program.

    The Secret drone program shows that Obama is a foreign policy heavyweight. He’s not afraid of the tough decisions. Keeping Guantanamo open is his greatest foreign policy achievement.

    1. Obama had to because of BUSHHHHHH!!!!!

  3. The results of the Arab Spring will not be known for some time.

    Uhh, the results are known now. By looking at the results. Whether those results continue to change– for the better or for the worse– only time will tell. But yeah, Springtime for Arabs got Egypt an Islamist power-grabbing tyrant, and got us a dead ambassador in Libya. Hooray for Twitter!

    1. We give them democracy, it is now theirs to do what they want with. It is not our business if they vote in extremists. This is why we should stop meddling in their affairs.

  4. Save this column for 30 years in the future when we might actually know with some degree of confidence the consequences of contemporary foreign policy.

    Also, you think toppling Gaddafi wasn’t worth four lives in Libya? The relationship seems pretty tenuous to me, but do tell…

    1. I wouldn’t give my life to topple Gaddafi.

      1. He’s dead now so why would you?

    2. joe, you were singing an awfully different tune about Iraq circa 2005-06.

    3. From the wayback machine

      joe| 10.5.05 @ 2:22PM

      “Joe, you sound almost as if you want the iraqi referendum to fail, as if to score political points. That’s pretty low.”

      yeah yeah yeah, clap louder or Tinkerbell will die.

      I’m not going to put on a happy face and pretend everything’s going well just so you can feel better, rafuzo.

      TallDave, you seem to have trouble with the concept of “cost.” Let’s put it this way: would you rather have a nickel in your pocket, or would you rather have me punch you in the mouth and give you a dime?

      Pointing out that a dime is worth more than a nickel doesn’t answer the question.

      1. joe| 10.5.05 @ 2:29PM

        Yeah, well, tell that to the women picking up pieces of their husbands after a carbombing. Tell them that they’re better off now that there are terrorists slaughtering people in the street all over their country.

        Anybody can play that dishonest game, ToolDave. Come on, TRY to make a valid argument. Think positive! You can do it!

  5. I happy with our accomplishments in the North Africa and the Middle East. At least four despotic governments have fallen or are falling. That’s a good years worth of work.

    It’s not Bush or Obama’s that conservative Islam is in the midst of some kind of Great Awakening. At least with Islamists coming to power in some of these countries we know and the people there know what they’re dealing with. It was much harder to see when these guys were under the jackboots of despotism.

    Huzzah for liberty in the Arab world! It won’t be perfect and there will be blood, but it’s better than what was.

    1. Bush or Obama’s fault

  6. merry christmas to u,thank you so is nice blog

  7. ha! nice video that wake TFU one…

    but it gives the impression it was perfectly ok to sleep through the nightmare or george w’s reign..

    if people were not awake after he stole 2000… they aint never gonna wake the FU!

  8. Sometimes you ohjsut have to roll with it man!

  9. Does your top 5 only count to 3 or am I missing something?

  10. The article is titled “The Top 5 U.S. Foreign Policy Screw-Ups of 2012”. Did not of Bush’s screwups make the top 5 or is the article title wrong?

    1. Bush wasn’t president in 2012? Are you joking?

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