(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
GlobalPost‘s John Aloysius Farrell has a fascinating survey up of perspectives on Obama’s year in foreign policy.
Read the entire piece, but I’ve put some of the zinger quotes below — including my own.
What stands out is that perhaps for the first time I can recall, Danielle Pletka of AEI and I are basically on the same page.
Over at the Carnegie Endowment, Jessica Tuchman Mathews gives Obama the best grades for performance — though she worries that Afghanistan could break the back of the administration.
Carnegie’s Robert Kagan, who is with Pletka a leading figure in the neoconservative camp, also gives Obama good marks for being more trigger-comfortable with drones than the Bush administration was and for upping the ante in Afghanistan.
But Carnegie’s Paul Salem, who runs the endowment’s Middle East Center, agrees with Pletka and me.
Carnegie’s Douglas Paal calls it basically down the middle, applauding some of the tactical, low hanging fruit choices of the Obama foreign policy team — but agreeing with Pletka, Clemons and Salem that Obama made no significant strategic leaps.
Some lines from the Farrell essay:
The administration “has taken no strategic leaps in any area.”
The president suggested in the campaign that once he was able to bring all the countries we had alienated back into our order of influence … that in fact they would be willing to step up and do more. What we discovered is nope, they’re not,”
“On foreign policy … he has done an amazingly lackluster job.”
Obama met stunning failure in his handling of a key ally in the Middle East. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu called Obama’s bluff when the president pressured Israel to abandon settlements on the West Bank, and the administration’s plans for a breakthrough were stymied.
“They put themselves into a box. Whether it was right to start with the settlements or not, they went at it in an amateurish way,” said Clemons. “You figured they must have had something else planned or they would never have done so stupid a thing” but “they had no alternative plan.”
Jessica Tuchman Mathews
“I think he’s gotten it about right,” “And we just have to be smart in this country to not define success as perfection.”
Obama has matched Bush as a warrior. “They have ramped up the military aspect of the war on terror. They’ve increased the forces in Afghanistan; they’ve substantially increased the drone attacks in Pakistan,” said Robert Kagan, a senior associate at Carnegie.
“There’s a lot of kerfuffle in the United States about what happens to captured terrorists when they enter the American legal system. The Obama administration, to some extent, is obviating that problem by assassinating them more frequently than the Bush administration was.”
Jessica Tuchman Mathews
“I fear … that Afghanistan could easily become the defining issue of Obama’s presidency and if that happens, it’s likely to be a tragedy,”
“There were no good choices,” Kagan said. But “the alternative — that somehow we could sort of basically wash our hands in Afghanistan — I think was really not workable. So he was in a bind and I think he made a fairly courageous decision.”
“He did engage, but he was not successful,” said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, who offered Obama a C-minus or D-plus grade for his diplomacy there. “No breakthroughs; no real progress.”
Obama’s ambitions to save the planet from global warming and nuclear proliferation also met with recalcitrance abroad. A new nuclear arms treaty with Russia was delayed, and the Copenhagen climate summit was anything but a smashing success.
“It didn’t blow up in his face, but it was a very muddy outcome … a not very strong outcome,” said Douglas Paal, an expert on Asia at Carnegie. “We’ve seen some tactical adjustments that are kind of low-hanging fruit, and I would applaud most of them.” But “the big strategic issues” like “what does the U.S. do about the rise … of China?” are “still an open question.”
— Steve Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons