Almost 2 years into the Obama Administration I provide for you an interim report card on his performance in the all-important area of foreign policy. The grade is not good, but it could have been worse. The interim grade is a “C.” Here are the details, by situation:
Iraq: For the anti-Iraq war liberals (including the Nobel committee) who believed that President Obama would somehow do something different from the Bush Administration there can only be great disappointment, or a feeling of being duped. President Obama has simply executed the Bush Administration “Status of Forces Agreement”, including the schedule as outlined by President Bush. The only other change, and it can only be interpreted as negative and politically motivated, is that he has barely spoken of Iraq despite the fact that we have 50,000 American troops in harms way there. He has also failed to trumpet our successes in Iraq, almost begrudgingly acknowledging the positives and that we have achieved fantastic relative success. From me he gets a B+, primarily because it took some thought not to screw up the Bush policy that was working effectively.
Afghanistan: Here is another situation which must have disappointed the elders in Norway. Instead of winding down in Afghanistan, the President launched a “surge” of at least an additional 40,000 troops. It is difficult to imagine that President Bush would have done anything differently given the success of the surge in Iraq. Where the 2 Presidents certainly diverge, however, is that President Bush never would have taken 4 months to set the policy (while the enemy raged, and our troops wondered what was next), and most certainly President Bush would not have announced the “withdrawal date” of July 2011. This was clearly politically motivated, likely stimulated and positively motivated the Taliban, and as we have seen over the last 3 months the Administration has gradually watered down what this “withdrawal” will be, proving it to be just short of a political lie. My grade here, primarily influenced by my positive view of the surge and again the restraint not to mess things up too much, as well as the extreme difficulty of the whole situation, is a B.
North Korea: Ah, North Korea. Clearly Kim Jong-Il is motivated by the weakness of the Obama Administration. One is left to wonder, would he have attacked that South Korean ship (killing 46 sailors) if President Bush were in office? Bombed the Yeonpyeong Island? I doubt he would have, but of course I can’t prove it. But weakness has a way of stimulating despots, and clearly our response was just what Jong-Il probably laughingly predicted. South Korean ship sunk in an act of war on an ally, and no response. Remember the Anschluss! Also remember the attacks by candidate Obama (and candidate Kerry) on the President in regards to North Korea, including false claims of “unilateralism” (President Bush sponsored the 6-party talks) and the claims that President Bush was allowing North Korea to go nuclear. There has been nothing but deterioration under President Obama here. Grade: D.
Russia: President Obama likes to speak of the “reset” button he pushed with Russia. The implication here is that Bush failed in relations with Russia, but Obama was fixing it. Well, he certainly has changed things. Now we simply turn a blind eye to the assassinations of opposition journalists, the illegal occupation and oppression of Georgia, the politically motivated arrests of opponents of Vladimir Putin, the “dictatorship” that exists under Putin and his puppet Medvedev, and Russia’s overt and covert support of Iran, North Korea, and other enemies of world peace and freedom. Add in the unilateral disarmament of our missile defense to please the Russians, and failure to sell and ratify the START treaty to the American people and a Democratic congress. Obama’s grade, for having no backbone or principles whatsoever regarding Russia, is an F.
Iran: Here we see liberal fantasy meet brutal reality. On college campuses all over America candidate Obama stimulated high-minded students when he spoke of “reaching out a hand to Iran” and sitting down and speaking with them reasonably. Surely they would respond to reason if we just tried to speak with them and understand their thoughts and concerns. And yet despite this incredibly naive and academic approach to the situation, Iran is more dangerous and defiant than ever, and is perhaps the single greatest threat to peace on our planet. Given that they view Obama as a patsy vs. their true fear of President Bush, they are more dangerous than ever before in our lifetimes. Grade: F
Middle East Peace: We have raised expectations that this latest round of talks may result in an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. The last time we did something like this (during the Clinton administration) it resulted in an intifada that cost tens of thousands of lives when the talks broke down, and overall it had a destabilizing effect. Hopefully we will see a different result here. We should know by now, though, that formal senior level talks should not begin until a foundation has been set and the likelihood of success is high. Grade: C.
Guantanamo Bay: This is the one that really keeps that Nobel Committee up at night. President Obama’s commitment to close Gitmo by January, 2010, has embarrassingly fallen to the wayside. How many American votes in the election turned on this commitment? Cheated is the only way they could feel. From the naive theoretical world to the real one something changed in the Obama policy. He realized that Gitmo is actually a humane facility, that torture never was endorsed there, that it keeps Americans safe to hold these dangerous people there, and now has learned (we can only hope!) that civilian courts are not the place to try these mass murderers. The fear for the future is that Obama will, in order to meet a commitment (albeit late) that he shouldn’t have made, he will allow the terrorists at Gitmo to bleed out into various countries around the world where they will once again find their way onto the battlefield, prepared once again to bomb our civilian aircraft, trains, and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Grade: B (Better than you expected? The President deserves credit for not delivering on the promise to close Gitmo).
Summary: There is little question that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was in 2008, adjusting for the path that President Bush had us on in Iraq that Obama followed. Our adversaries see us as weak, as having a professor in the White House (Obama) rather than a resolute warrior (Bush), and virtually every international situation is in a worse state than it was when Obama took office (again adjusting for Iraq and the glidepath Bush had us on).
We can only hope for a better report card in 2012.