Give Obama foreign policy more time

January 26, 2010


If you’re trying to grade President Obama’s foreign policy one year after he took office, my advice is: Wait until next year.

It’s tempting to jump the gun and call his foreign policy a washout. After all, the sky-high global ratings inspired by Obama’s victory have not yet produced any tangible foreign-policy triumphs — in the Middle East, South Asia, or on global warming. Even an early Obama supporter like security expert Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that Obama “has not yet made the transition from inspiring orator to compelling statesman. Advocating that something happen is not the same as making it happen.”

But I believe it’s much too soon to pass judgment: 2010 will be the critical year for strategies that the Obama team has set in motion — on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and other key issues. By year’s end, we’ll be able to judge whether his emphasis on diplomatic “engagement” as substitute for — or complement to — military force can produce results.

Critics who deride Obama’s insistence on “engagement” are ignoring historical currents. The Bush administration’s debacle in Iraq, rescued at the last minute, has sharply diminished America’s clout and influence abroad. So did the Bush team’s abandonment of Afghanistan (squandering the gains of a successful war there), which permitted al-Qaida and the Taliban to revive.

Obama rightly understood that we could no longer act like the sole superpower of the 1990s, nor can we still rely primarily on force. We don’t have the resources. Our military is overstretched and our budgets grossly overextended. And our global clout — the ability to persuade or compel other nations to follow our lead — has been sharply eroding as our economy sinks.

If Sen. John McCain had won the presidency in 2008, he would have been forced to recognize the same foreign-policy realities Obama had already grasped.

Where the Obama team slipped up was in overestimating how far, and how quickly, their man could advance on a current of global good feelings. They also failed to grasp how swiftly U.S. influence would erode as America’s economic troubles grew.

Case in point: Iran. In his inaugural address, Obama included this now-famous phrase aimed at Tehran: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” He hoped his outreach to the Muslim world, and his efforts to “engage” its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would bring results during his first year. He also hoped that smoothing relations with Moscow and Beijing would persuade them to back harsher sanctions against Iran if it failed to curb its nuclear program.

The policy made sense. The idea of waging a third U.S. war — with Iran — precipitated by U.S. or Israeli bomb strikes is crazy. The U.S. military does not want a third war.

But China and Russia were reluctant to endorse harsher sanctions as America’s global position weakened and Iran’s energy resources beckoned. Moreover, political upheaval within Iran made the regime less willing to deal. The president’s personal popularity took him only so far.

The same was true on Mideast peace talks, where his global appeal had little resonance inside Israel and could not, alone, win Arab concessions. Nor could his charm persuade a rising China and India to limit carbon emissions, which they believe means limiting growth.

In 2010, the Obama team will be more seasoned and, hopefully, more realistic. Its strategy of engagement — diplomatic, economic, and, if necessary, military — will be tested by approaching deadlines in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On Iran, if Tehran continues to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons, pressure will mount in some U.S. circles and within Israel for a military strike this year. The president must repel this pressure, while pressing for new sanctions. Bombing Iranian sites would not end Tehran’s nuclear program, but would inflame the region, while undercutting the best hope for change within Iran — the growing domestic opposition to the regime.

In Iraq, the number of U.S. soldiers will drop sharply this year. But it will take keen U.S. attention and regional diplomacy to get Iraq successfully through March elections and prepare the country for the exit of most or all U.S. troops in 2011.

And this year, Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan will be fully tested, with hopes that his troop surge can be reversed in 2011.

The U.S. military and the White House insist that Islamist militants cannot be defeated solely by military means. It will take skillful political engagement with the weak Afghan and Pakistani governments to ensure that increased international aid goes for jobs, thus undercutting the Taliban. And U.S. military commanders must also persuade their Pakistani counterparts to destroy Taliban havens within their country.

At the same time, it will take astute, behind-the-scenes U.S. diplomacy to help restart Pakistani-Indian talks over Kashmir, a conflict that fuels Pakistan’s Islamist fervor. And, in the end, it will take regional diplomacy, promoted by the United States, to woo key Taliban leaders to drop their links with al-Qaida and re-enter the Afghan political process.

The beginnings of such diplomacy will be on view at the London conference on Afghanistan next weekend. We’ll be in a better position to judge the success of Obama’s efforts at engagement by this time next year.


Brent Garner 8 years, 3 months ago

Two points of imminent failure for Obama's foreign policy, and no they cannot be waited on.

  1. Iran. Over the past week there have been numerous articles appearing in European media and even Sarkozy has pointed out that Iran is on the very brink of being able to build a nuclear weapon. Yet, the US dithers and defers to Russia and China. Russia and China will never support any effective sanctions policy against Iran because a) that would support the US which is contrary to their own interests, and b) both countries have massive financial involvment in Iran and sanctions would hurt them as well.

  2. The Israeli-Palestinian problem. Lets look at the demanded freeze. Israel is to freeze all construction in areas that Obama wants to give to the Palestinians, yet Palestinians are to be allowed unfettered building within areas to be controlled by Israel. Sounds a little bit biased to me. Plus, Israel has bowed to almost every stupid peace suggestion pushed at them by Europe and the US--yes even the hated Bush--and have gotten nothing in return for this. Israel evacuated Gaza and got Hamas in control there and rockets every day into Israeli towns in the Negev. Israel responds to those rockets and Israel is called a war criminal which ignores the Palestinian rocketing of residential areas, kindergartens, etc. No, give the Great Usurper an "F" on this one also. And, no, further pressure on Israel will not bring peace. It only encourages the recalcitrant Palestinians to demand more and more and more. Given the vast billions donated to them over the years each Palestinian should be wealthy. That they are not is solely due to their corrupt and evil leadership who would rather buy bombs, rockets, and guns to kill Israelis in restaurants, on buses, and on the street than spend that money to build schools, hospitals, invest in industry, etc.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

The first one-and-done President of the new century. Hopenchange!

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 3 months ago

It is very obvious to me that the Obama bashers on here don't have a single clue as to how to solve any of the problems in this country other than electing another Bush-Cheney type administration.

No thanks.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

Your tax dollars at work:

CBS) Thanks to recently filed Congressional expense reports there's new light shed on the Copenhagen Climate Summit in Denmark and how much it cost taxpayers.

CBS News Investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports official filings and our own investigation show at least 106 people from the House and Senate attended - spouses, a doctor, a protocol expert and even a photographer.

For 15 Democratic and 6 Republican Congressmen, food and rooms for two nights cost $4,406 tax dollars each. That's $2,200 a day - more than most Americans spend on their monthly mortgage payment.

CBS News asked members of Congress and staff about whether they're mindful that it's public tax dollars they're spending. Many said they had never even seen the bills or the expense reports.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is a key climate change player. He went to Copenhagen last year. Last week, we asked him about the $2,200-a-day bill for room and food.

"I can't believe that," Rep. Waxman said. "I can't believe it, but I don't know."

But his name is in black and white in the expense reports. The group expense report was filed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She wouldn't talk about it when our producer tried to ask.

Pelosi's office did offer an explanation for the high room charges. Those who stayed just two nights were charged a six-night minimum at the five-star Marriott. One staffer said, they strongly objected to no avail. You may ask how they'll negotiate a climate treaty, if they can't get a better deal on hotel rooms.

Total hotel, meeting rooms and "a couple" of $1,000-a-night hospitality suites topped $400,000.

Flights weren't cheap, either. Fifty-nine House and Senate staff flew commercial during the Copenhagen rush. They paid government rates -- $5-10,000 each -- totaling $408,064. Add three military jets -- $168,351 just for flight time -- and the bill tops $1.1 million dollars -- not including all the Obama administration officials who attended: well over 60.

In fairness, many attendees told us they did a lot of hard work, and the laid groundwork for a future global treaty.

"It was cold? I was there because I thought it was important for me to be there," Rep. Waxman said. "I didn't look at it as a pleasure trip."

But considering the size of the deficit, and the fact that that no global deal would be reached -- critics question the super-sized U.S. delegation -- more than 165 -- leaving the impression there's dollars to burn. In this case, more than a million. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/25/cbsnews_investigates/main6140406.shtml

Liberty275 8 years, 3 months ago

barrypenders, ROFLMAO.

jayhawklawrence, it's true. Everyone that disagrees with you must be clueless. I know I for one can't even think down to your level.

jaywalker 8 years, 3 months ago

"You cut-n-paste that anorexic excuse nearly as often as Richard posts his economic development BS"

And he will, to be sure..

"It is very obvious to me that the Obama bashers on here don't have a single clue as to how to solve any of the problems in this country other than electing another Bush-Cheney type administration"

Obvious to you? You mean it's just easy to spout the same tired line and then run away, don't you? And in case this isn't obvioud to you, it isn't the job of the posters here to "have a single clue as to how to solve any of the problems in this country". We elect people for that. Lastly, who here has said anything even remotely resembling "another Bush/Cheney administration" is what they want or the answer to anything?

jaywalker 8 years, 3 months ago

"And he will continue to do same, to be sure"

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

That nice, quiet mob-financed mansion back in Chicago is probably looking pretty good to Dear Leader these days.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 3 months ago

Dear Leader’s corruptocrat comrades in Chicago continue business as usual.

“Many candidates stretch the truth in those campaign mailers now clogging your mailbox.

There are candidates who climb still higher on the rickety ladder of falsehoods — to fable, to fiction, even to pure fantasy.

Then there's Joseph Berrios, whose mailer's claims are so detached from reality that you have to weigh a serious question:

Why would any voter want such a certifiable rewriter of the truth in charge of Cook County property assessments — the make-or-break valuations on which citizens' property taxes are calculated?

Watch as Berrios — kingmaker for County Board President Todd Stroger, loyal supporter of Stroger's tax policy, shifter of property tax burdens from commercial properties to homeowners, successful lobbyist for video poker, supplicant to Springfield political cronies who have tax appeals before the Board of Review on which he sits — yes, watch Berrios clumsily try to obliterate his record as an insider:

"Tired of paying more in property taxes while Cook County government wastes your money?

"So is Joe Berrios.

"As Cook County Assessor, Joe Berrios will fight to freeze Cook County property taxes."

Keep reading and you learn that "Joe will cut patronage positions and eliminate wasteful spending in the assessor's office."

Yes, this is the same Joe Berrios who, as a Cook County Democratic Party official, helped deposit Todd Stroger onto the general election ballot in 2006. Later, no county politician more enthusiastically endorsed Stroger's unneeded sales tax hike than Berrios.

Yet Berrios wants to pretend that he's so, so upset with Cook County government? That he's on your side?

Berrios' candidacy for assessor, and his misleading mailer, ought to grab voters by the throat. This office, perhaps more than any other, can be manipulated to help lawyer-politicians, their legal clients and their connected friends. It's a zero-sum game: If their property tax valuations fall, yours is guaranteed to rise.

Democrat Jim Houlihan, no friend of Berrios, is retiring. Democratic voters need to replace Houlihan with a nominee who has the integrity to run on his real record. Not on an invented record full of phony posturing…” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-berrios-0126-20100125,0,2497216.story

tbaker 8 years, 3 months ago

The President has burned-through all of his political capital in his first year and now has lost the initiative. 2010 will define him, culminating in the Republican rout that the mid-term elections will ultimately become. He needs a miracle. Say the economy miraculously bounces back and the employment numbers steadily improve over the spring and summer, and the democrats in congress suddenly all become champions of Reagan-esqe tax legislation, the damage may be mitigated, but at the end of the day, he is no longer driving the train. He's along for the ride, and it looks like a rough one ahead.

jaywalker 8 years, 3 months ago

"The policies didn't get to be unpopular until after they were put through the Republican process in Congress. You'll notice that the more “interaction” that the health reform package gets with Republicans in Congress, the more unpopular it gets? "

Now THAT deserves some raucous and deserved (laughter)! You keep believing that nonsense, porch, and don't forget to leave your tooth under your pillow tonight.

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago

The best news about Obama's foreign policy is we live in the heartland and nobody is interested in blowing us up. So we get to watch the criminal trials against terrorist, Iran and Korea build nuclear weapons, and terrorist attacks in the US. And we get to see the arguments over what is a terrorist attack and which is not. The true test should be do you feel the United States is safer now?

gphawk89 8 years, 3 months ago

I didn't know we really had a foreign policy now - other than to repeatedly apologize to the rest of the world for how the US has been a big, mean bully.

jaywalker 8 years, 3 months ago

"The point is to oppose anything Democratic or Obama, isn't that right jaywalker?"

Yeah, you're right, moron. That's why I voted for him.


"As far as who has their finger on the pulse of the nation goes, lielielielielielielielielielielie etc......."

As far as? Who said bupkiss about 'finger on the pulse' of diddly? Either you're so remedial you don't know how to segue or your meds are wearing off..

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago


"I bet we'd be a lot safer if conservatives let Obama go in and do what Bush didn't do, (for some reason). I bet we'd be a lot safer if a certain segment of Americans didn't make themselves a bigger problem than our enemies. Showing we're not so utterly stupid as to vote against our own health would go far in showing we have our collective act together."

How are conservatives stopping Obama from doing anything? Much like Bush, Obama does what he wants when he wants to. Voting against health??????? The democrats could have voted for and approve a bill anytime they wanted to last year. They just keep fighting each other and buying each other off. As a result they lost. How did the democratic congress solve the healthcare problems of 40 million people? They came up with a lame bill that helped 26 million. That is so nuts.

Hopefully now they can put something meaningful together.

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago


Al Qaeda actually resides in many countries. I would think their presence is Afghanistan is minimal, Pakistan is the newest frontier. Yemen appears to be the new HQ for AQ. For those reasons a global view, or global war on terror is a more seasoned approach than Afghanistan. Salute to Obama for sending in drones where ever AQ are found.

Conservatives approached health reform on two fronts. Stop what the democrats were doing and make proposals to things they would like to see in the bill. Tort reform, interstate insurance being two of those ideas. The left ignored both because they had the numbers and did not need republican support. The bill was stopped, it was not republicans that made that happen, though they will say it was. I would say the bill written behind closed doors and thinking the entire left would just jump on the train, was a flawed idea. The thought that members on the left that would just follow the lead on abortion, was a bad move.

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago

Porch: You must be my age there is some misrembering going on. We went to war with Afghanistan immediately following 9/11 in October of that same year, I don't think that is going in late. I think your confusing Taliban with AQ and they are not the same, have acutally severed ties from each other. Taliban is in Afghanistan. It is widely accepted AQ is in Pakistan, you are right. There are many guesses where OBL is. Because of his medical condition, yet appearing fit in the occassional pictures, it is believed he is receiving regular medical care two or more times a week. For that he is in Pakistan not the mountains of Afghanistan. Yes getting OBL should be one of the highest of priorities for any president.

tbaker 8 years, 3 months ago

Porch; You should heed the words of leedavid. We were in Afgahnistan the month after 9/11 and we've never "pulled out."

When you say "our best understanding is that Bin Laden is in NE Afghanistan" please tell us exactly where are you getting this information? Can you list the provinces of NE Afghanistan we should be looking for him in? I'll be happy to share your wisdom with my boss, so he can point out the oversight to GEN McChrystal in his next meeting with him.

If AQ is in Afghanistan, please tell me where they might be? When / where was the last attack in Afghanistan that UBL or AQ claimed credit for / can be linked to AQ? I would save you the trouble. We're not fighting AQ here Porch. Sure AQ will say the insurgency in Afghanistan is OK with them, but they are not sponsoring it. We're fighting the Taliban here Porch. Personally, I wish you were right and we were fighting AQ. They are rank amatures compared to the Taliban.

I can assure you Porch, if UBL was in Afghanistan, he would have been dead or captured long ago. I would add that he once was (2001/2002) and morons in the Bush administration saw to it we blew a golden opportunity to get him in Tora Bora, but he's long gone now.

If you think about it a while, what "good" is killing / capturing him going to do anyway? At the end of the day, I'm sure you'll find more than one strategic analyst who will tell you keeping him alive is actually a good thing. Kill him, and the world will forget about Islamic Extremism and go back to sleep - just like we were the morning of 9/11.

Brent Garner 8 years, 3 months ago

Rule #1 to follow if you find yourself in a hole:

Stop digging!

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 3 months ago

The reason we are not hearing about the right wing foreign policy perspective is because we have already seen it with Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld.

It seems to me that they are still promoting the same policies. They have not learned a thing. Are you going to ask Sarah Palin to stand up to the Iranians, North Koreans and Al Queda? What is Sarah Palin going to do against the North Koreans? Maybe they will laugh themselves to death.

As I recall, it was John McCain who was going to show us how to stand up to the Russians in Georgia. Thank God, he didn't get the chance to do that. We had no business in Georgia. We made stupid promises for corporate interests and profit that we had no right to make. It was all about money.

One of the reasons that Americans elected Obama was that they rightly understood that we needed a dramatic shift in the way we were relating to the rest of the world. Obama started out with incredible good will throughout the world. It has been the Republicans who have sought to undermine Obama's success, and thus, America's hope for a more peaceful world.

It appears that the Republican policy will ultimately lead to sending more young men and women to fight our battles, presumably for our national corporate interests such as oil and strategic land based missile systems and landing strips.

The Republican political agenda will bankrupt the United States. Then they will simply move their corporate offices to China or India or the Cayman Islands. And it won't be their kids fighting wars on foreign shores. It will be ours.

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago

Jayhawklawrence: That has to be the most eloquent nonsense I have read in some time. It is Obama that is sending troops to Afghanistan, not Bush. It is Obama that is bankrupting the United States, not Bush. (See most recent figures from the CBO) And the wonderous out pouring of love in the world for Obama has the world on terror alert status. The UK was or is on attack is likely status. Please love your Obama but at least take the rose colored glasses off. Geez

jafs 8 years, 3 months ago


From what I've read, tort reform would provide very small savings.

And, if conservatives really want to improve competition, why aren't they advocating that health insurance companies lose their exemption from anti-trust legislation?

A possible outcome from allowing cross state line purchases would be that insurance companies simply move to states with less regulation, thus reducing the quality of their insurance policies.

leedavid 8 years, 3 months ago

Jaf....good points. Insurance across state lines is available in almost all insurance issues except health care. Do you see reduced quality auto insurance just because someone crossed state line? I don't know of such a case.

If the democrats were sincerely interested in the republican views they would have asked us. But that did not happen in the house bill or the senate bill and Obama did not bring a lot of republicans into his meetings either. He over estimated his majority in congress and took for granted they would support him. Do you realize the bills that were approved by congress do not represent the health insurance bill the president asked for over and over again?

jafs 8 years, 3 months ago


I do realize that - it's a big problem.

Do different states have substantially different regulations for auto insurance?

And, what about the idea of simply removing the exemption from anti-trust requirements? It seems like a good old-fashioned "let the free market work" conservative approach to me.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.