The theme of this opinion article is to criticize the foreign policy of the Obama Administration. Some of my friends have argued that my past criticism of the president has been personal rather than substance, so I want to make clear that this criticism is about his performance, not the man himself.
I think I’m on pretty solid ground with this topic. Now well into his second term, Mr. Obama is being criticized on many fronts. With an approval rating dipping below 40 percent, it’s not hard to see why. Let’s call it ‘second term blues.’ Nowhere is the criticism sharper than in the arena of foreign policy where, coincidentally, the Constitution gives the chief executive more leeway to conduct these affairs than elsewhere.
Now to be fair, Democrat presidents over the past half century have been much less known for their foreign policy compared to domestic affairs while Republicans show more interest in foreign affairs and less in domestic. It’s merely a reflection of their
constituent’s concerns. There are exceptions to this. For example, Jimmy Carter will be forever linked to the Camp David Accords which led to peace between Egypt and Israel while Ronald Reagan is given credit for the resurgence of the domestic economy on the heels of the inflationary 1970s.
Now with nearly three-quarters of his presidency in the rear view mirror, Mr. Obama’s crowning achievement is domestic — the 2010 Affordable Care Act. If you ask a presidential scholar to name his foreign policy successes, you won’t get much more than a long pause. It’s a fruitless search.
When Obama took office in early 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Russian counterpart and presented him with the ‘reset’ button (never mind the mistranslation). How did that work out? I suppose that reset means ‘whatever Bush did, we’ll do differently,’ but is that the foundation of coherent policy? Evidently not since Mrs. Clinton just admitted that the ‘Obama doctrine’ was “don’t do stupid stuff.” Right, but assuming I know what not to do, does that translate into knowing what to do? Clinton says no and I agree. Her point is that “great nations need (underlying) principles” to guide their actions. What principles underlie Obama’s foreign policy?
On every front like Ukraine, Arab Spring, Levant, Iran, Central America (the list goes on), our foreign policy is in shambles. It seems that the White House has said, ‘let’s make it up as we go along.’
Some may argue that foreign policy is more a game of chance than domestic policy, and I would agree to some extent. For example, George Bush’s presidency was transformed seven months into office when 9/11 crashed into our national psyche. While chance plays an important role, it is offset by the plain fact that the Constitution gives the president much more leeway to conduct foreign affairs than domestic.
President Obama appears to be uninterested in these matters. He shifted our emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan and since then, two-thirds of the casualties in that theater have occurred. Have you heard him once speak to the American people since his 2009 surge in forces to explain our strategy and the need for sacrifice? And what is the relationship between the president and Afghan leaders – frosty at best. He was quick to leave Iraq with no residual forces; now look what is happening in the west and north of the war-torn country.
Speaking of frosty, how is his relationship with Vladimir Putin or Benjamin Netanyahu? One of Obama’s first actions upon taking office in 2009 was to cancel a theater missile defense program in Poland, undercutting an important NSTO ally. Evidently, he was more concerned about offending Putin than protecting Europe from the threat of Iranian missiles. How did that work out?
Some may argue that I am suggesting a more interventionist policy. That’s untrue. To say that the only alternative from being disengaged like President Obama is to ‘send in the Marines’ is a false choice. Being a strong leader in foreign affairs does not equate to committing ‘boots on the ground’ at the drop of a hat, but it does suggest that “leading from behind” as in the case with Libya is not the action of a great nation.
When Obama took office nearly six years ago, he made an around the world trip highlighted by a speech in Cairo. He seemed to many like he was on an apology tour for past American actions. His objective was to reach out to the Islamic world and offer an olive branch. Today, there are double the number of terrorist organizations in the world as when he took office and a real threat that ISIS will create an Islamic state in the Levant region of the Persian Gulf.
What a mess.