(President Barack Obama meets with John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, in the Oval Office, Jan. 4, 2010. Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
While assessing President Obama’s first year in office many analysts have insisted that there is something different and better about Obama’s foreign policy compared to that of his predecessor, but have struggled to identify a single policy shift or achievement to justify that claim.
I would argue that President Obama’s most significant foreign policy accomplishment in his first year in office was the “de-securitization” of the United States’ counter-terrorism efforts.
The ‘securitization’ of foreign policy has been described in this way, “By labeling something a security issue, an actor claims a need for the use of extraordinary means, emergency measures and other actions outside the boundaries of normal political procedures. (Rabia Karakaya Polat, “The Kurdish Issue: Can the AK Party Escape Securitization? Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, No. 3, (2008) p. 77)
The concept of “securitization” is often used to describe Turkey’s foreign policy for most of its history, and particularly in the 1990s. In the Turkish context, the literature suggests that Ankara engaged in a “securitized” foreign policy as a result of the political power of the military, which benefited directly from its indefinite and extra-legal battle with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) throughout the 1990s.
Peter Baker, in his fascinating new article for the New York Times Magazine on Obama’s approach to what his predecessor called the “Global War on Terrorism”, demonstrates that while President Bush managed to simultaneously exude over-confidence and press the ‘high-fear’ button, President Obama has sought relentlessly to identify the balance between “acknowledging danger and projecting confidence.”
Whether justifying additional troops for Afghanistan or addressing last week’s domestic terrorist threat, Obama has deliberately refrained from attempting to hijack the domestic debate by stoking fear, by claiming that more is always better, or by arguing that his political opponents are unpatriotic.
I know that some are dissatisfied with the delay in closing Guantanamo Bay and the continuation of some of Bush’s constiutionally questionable legal practices, but President Obama’s refusal to use fear for his personal political advantage is his administration’s most significant foreign policy accomplishment thus far.
— Ben Katcher