- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Under Secretary of Defense.
America’s foreign relations appear to have hit a perfect storm. The ongoing Snowden-NSA scandal, which has resulted in the near-alienation of Europe’s most powerful leader, the hitherto staunchly pro-American Angela Merkel, as well as anger in Brazil, Mexico, and several other countries, has overlapped with the Tea Party-inspired partial government shutdown and the angst generated in the run-up to the vote on the national debt. Just as everyone thought Washington’s credibility could not get much lower after the series of administration about-faces in responding to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, it has managed to sink further still.
President Obama and his administration are no innocents in this matter. They have completely mishandled the NSA eavesdropping affair, refusing to acknowledge reality in the face of overwhelming Snowden-leaked evidence, and thereby compounded European and Latin American anger. Moreover, the President’s stubborn refusal to negotiate with Capitol Hill Republicans, despite his constant refrain about the need for comity in Washington, certainly contributed to the government closure.
That said, the Tea Party’s Congressional adherents have even more to answer for. By pressing their quixotic attempt to force the President’s hand on Obamacare, they conveyed an image of an America that cannot get its house in order, and that has little concern about the international ramifications of its absurd proclivity to lurch from crisis to crisis every few months.
American reliability was already questionable in the aftermath of its support for the Morsy government in Egypt in the face of increasing popular hostility (supposedly on the grounds that the Muslim Brotherhood’s election victory needed to be respected) in contrast to its desertion of Hosni Mubarak (who also held office by virtue of an election) when the people turned against him. Its treatment of Muammar al-Qaddafi, who, after all, had reached a solemn agreement with the United States to terminate his nuclear weapons program, and appears to have adhered to that agreement, likewise projected an image of perfide Americana. And Obama’s tortured reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons obliterated the credibility of his "red lines" that were meant to deter the Syrian leader.
The Congressional supporters of the Tea Party have compounded the damage to the image of American reliability, however. Foreign observers think the United States has lost its collective mind; allies are looking elsewhere for security support; friends are reconsidering how tightly they wish to be aligned with America; adversaries are convincing themselves that Washington is withdrawing from the world, allowing them to wreak havoc on the international scene. The Tea Party’s adherents simply are ignorant of the ramifications of their behavior. They do not realize that America’s economic security, indeed its secure way of life, is intimately linked to a stable international order, which itself requires that Washington maintain and enhance its partnerships with like-minded governments. They are dragging America to a new international low, from which recovery may be very long in coming.