It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks for American foreign policy. No, seriously.
On June 23, the last of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was loaded onto a Danish freighter to be destroyed. The following day, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia asked his Parliament to rescind the permission that it had given him to send troops into Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is still cautious optimism that a nuclear deal with Iran is within reach.
What do these have in common? They were achieved without a single American bomb being dropped and they relied on a combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions and the coercive threat of military force. As policy makers and pundits remain focused on Iraq and the perennial but distracting discussion about the use of force, these modest but significant achievements have, perhaps predictably, been ignored. Yet they hold important lessons for how American power can be most effectively deployed today.
Nine months ago, President Obama eschewed military means to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons and instead negotiated an agreement to remove them. Critics like Senator John McCain blasted it as a “loser” deal that would never work. By refusing to back up a stated “red line” with military force, Mr. Obama had supposedly weakened American credibility.