Obama Foreign Policy, an Interim Report Card

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.








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2 Responses to Obama Foreign Policy, an Interim Report Card

  1. Steph says:

    This will sound theoretical — which is to be expected from a “high-minded college student :)” — but I would prefer a president in the middle of these extremes. Obama tried to operate with a conciliatory tone toward Iran, and as you said, this was unsuccessful. I think the reason this was so welcomed by the American people, however, is that they were concerned Bush damaged our global reputation by being a stubborn war-mongerer. Of COURSE we want North Koreans to be scared to death of the U.S., in fact, it is critical to world peace that dangerous nations fear the wrath of our military. But do we want our allies shaking their heads as we spend billions on wars in the Middle East that our people don’t support? Perhaps Obama is not feared enough, but it is an asset that he is enormously popular abroad. People demonstrated that they wanted to tip the scale in that direction after Bush-Cheney. The most widely distributed Saudi newspaper claimed that once Bush was replaced with Obama, the U.S. would no longer be seen as “a burden on the world.” Europeans came out in the hundreds of thousands to cheer when he was elected. Regardless of whether you or I agree with the sentiments of other world leaders, their opinions do matter.

    In his book, Obama said that the U.S. needs to be more multilateral in dealing with other countries and “move the international system in the direction of greater equity, justice and prosperity.” I think his basic premise (i.e., that the U.S. should do what it can to be diplomatic, then resort to other tactics if this fails), is difficult to disagree with. Iran is a troubled nation with a corrupt government and some indisputably evil people. Still, I think “diplomacy first” is a solid foreign policy. A leader who a) has a positive foreign reputation, b) maintains firm authority, AND c) demands respect, is what we want out of our president. In my opinion, neither Bush nor Obama quite fit the bill.

    • vofreason says:


      I wouldn’t call your response “theoretical” as you described, but I would call it “idealist”, and I say that to mean that you have a view of how most of us would like the world to be. Unfortunately, as G. Gordon Liddy told me when I was in college: “The world is not Westchester County. The world is a bad neighborhood at 2 o’clock in the morning.” My fear, which has partially come true, is that President Obama and the Democrats in general take an idealistic view to the detriment of the world. We have seen throughout our history, certainly in the 20th and 21st century, that strength and stubbornness of the US and other democracies become the routes to peace and stability in the world.

      I agree with your comments that it is probably better when the citizens in allied countries “like” the US and our President, but I fail to see the critical importance of the delta between how they felt about President Bush (43) and President Obama. What is the value in a French citizen supporting the US? Try to translate that to tangible benefits and I think you will struggle. President Obama is much more well liked in Europe, but we still get very little support from European governments on almost everything. In Iraq they don’t help or they help only in the safest ways (e.g. training), despite the monumental security and financial interests they have in a stable Iraq. The same is true in Afghanistan, all we get is lip service from most countries that “like us” now and the heavy lifting is done by 3 or 4 countries, led by the US. The same countries that did the heavy lifting under Bush 43. The UN is no more effective or committed to US policies and the spread of freedom than they were under Bush 43. I truly the believe the world is significantly “less safe” after 2 years under President Obama than under President Bush. So what good do the throngs in Germany cheering for Obama do for US policy or advancing freedom in the world?

      In addition, I should comment on the “myth” that President Bush was a “unilateral” President. On Iran he tried for 6 years to get multi-party talks working with the Europeans and Chinese on Iran. He went to the United Nations twice, and Colin Powell went twice, to try to gain support for severe sanctions and eventually military action against Iraq (on this he was foiled by the French– who were doing billions of dollars in illicit trade with Iraq, and the Russians– who were doing the same and who are a criminal nation– and by the Chinese who never, ever let ethics and right vs. wrong effect their votes in the UN). He also refused to negotiate with North Korea as a single nation and pushed for the 6-party talks which have been utilized at various stages. He as a matter of record and fact “refused” to negotiate with Iran and North Korea one on one. The “unilateral” label came from his brave decision to invade Iraq after exhausting every reasonable diplomatic option, and from the US decision not to participate in the Kyoto protocol at the outset of the Bush administration– a position, I might add, that was consistent with the position of the Clinton administration, and consistent with the 95-5 vote in the US Senate against Kyoto prior to Bush taking office.

      Finally, your point about Obama’s comment in his book about “moving the international system in the direction of greater equity, justice, and prosperity” is certainly a principle that any reasonable person would support. Any level-headed democrat or republican would say this is absolutely true. But this speaks to Obama’s naivete as well. He says this as if many or most of us don’t agree with it. It’s like the peace sticker on someone’s car, like they are saying “hey everyone, I support peace!”. Well, what reasonable person doesn’t?? It’s not about supporting peace, or about what we want the international community to do. It’s a matter of how we ACHIEVE such things, and how much risk we expose ourselves to in the process of achieving such things. Yes, we need the international system to move in the right direction. But can we depend on that right now? Could we turn over control of our international political and military decisions and our security over to the UN? To NATO? The answer is a resounding no. So while we work to move the international community in the right direction, which will happen ever so slowly and may never come to fruition, we must lead.

      We have had 2 years of the Obama administration and their approach. In what international situation are we better off? What have been the tangible benefits of his approach? Is Gitmo closed? Is North Korea more or less dangerous (before you answer note the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean naval ship killing 47, and the random bombing of a civilian South Korean island killing 5– would they have tried this if Bush were President?)? Are we trying terrorists in civilian courts (anymore)? Isn’t the recidivism of Gitmo releases at 25%, killing who knows how many Americans– so far? Is Iran stronger or weaker? Does Russia feel more or less pressure to withdraw from Georgia? Do east European democracies (e.g. Ukraine) feel safer and more supported under Obama, or less? How about Somalia, China, Ivory Coast? How about the Israeli’s and Palestinians? Mexico? Colombia (where Obama protects American unions by outrageously not supporting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement)? Afghanistan? Iraq is arguably worse off, but at least no better than they would have been.

      Obama has learned a lot in his first 2 years, but he must learn a lot more. The world isn’t as neat and tidy as it was in his lecture hall. I don’t think the world can take another 2 years like the first 2. Fortunately I think he is getting the message– probably from members of his cabinet, some of whom are old salts, and some of whom have had to learn very fast what works and doesn’t work.

      Thanks as always for commenting in such a stimulating and thoughtful fashion!!

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