Topics: Barack Obama

Grading Obama like a Harvard professor on foreign policy

By |
Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Barack Obama,Foreign Policy,Charles Hoskinson

Foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher of the Washington Post closed out 2013 with a foreign policy report card for President Obama that reads like a Harvard professor's grade list: inflated.

Here's where he got it wrong, and why:

Afghanistan-Pakistan: C-
My grade: D

Fisher left out Afghan President Hamid Karzai's drama over whether he'll sign a bilateral security pact, even though his own newspaper reported Dec. 28 that intelligence analysts were predicting dire consequences for U.S. interests if the pact isn't signed.

China: A
My grade: B

I took off points for the administration's decision in November to advise U.S. airlines to obey China's declared air defense zone over the East China Sea, which unnecessarily sent a mixed message to Beijing.

Egypt: F
My grade: It couldn't get any worse

Iran: B+
My grade: D

Maybe it is a good idea to negotiate with Iran, especially on its nuclear program. And maybe Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election was a true sign of a moderate trend within the Islamic Republic, rather than just an elaborate "good cop/bad cop" routine involving a charter member of the regime.

But as I've written, it's a terrible idea to try to make a deal while the guy who has the authority to say "yes," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gets to sit on the sidelines and avoid the political costs of negotiating. It's not just a violation of protocol for the commander in chief of U.S. armed forces to have to negotiate with someone who has to ask permission to promise not to attack U.S. interests, it's an implicit concession that puts the United States at a disadvantage from the start. Meanwhile, Obama seems so desperate for a deal on the nuclear issue he's willing to rule out confronting Iran on anything else in the talks, even the fate of Americans being held by Tehran.

Israel: C+
My grade: F

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spent 2013 trying to push a "peace process" that won't bring peace down the Israelis' throats, then complaining when they balked at making concessions. If Obama wants the Israelis to make concessions for peace, such as giving up the West Bank, he's got to do what it takes to make sure they have real peace. And that means doing more to end Iran's proxy war against the Jewish state.

North Korea: B+
My grade: C

Grade inflation is at work here. If all the administration did is meet its modest goals, that's just an average result.

Pivot to Asia: B-
My grade: C

It doesn't do a lot of good to make the Pacific the centerpiece of your national security policy if the Navy has the smallest number of combat ships since 1917, and one of the administration's most active shipbuilding programs --the LCS -- is churning out vessels into active service even though the armament they need to survive in battle is at least another year away from being ready.

Obama's disingenuous response to Mitt Romney's criticism on that point in the 2012 debates ignores the fact that the oceans are no smaller than they were in 1917 and naval surface ships aren't that much faster. And no one's yet invented a carrier that can be in two crisis zones at the same time, like the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea.

Russia: D
My grade: Same

Edward Snowden blowback: D---
My grade: Can't disagree

Syria: D
My grade: F

If Obama found himself in a box on Syria in 2013, he's the one who built it. He might have been able to act decisively before Islamist extremists became the only viable alternative to Bashar Assad, but his attention was focused on Libya.

And don't forget: Almost as soon as he took office, Obama reversed George W. Bush's policy of pressuring Assad, deciding instead to "engage" with the Syrian dictator to wean him away from his alliance with Iran and encourage him to make peace with Israel. Instead, the administration's approach strengthened Assad's hand just in time to confront the uprising when it broke out in 2011.

And here are a couple of notable failures Fisher missed:

Brazil: F

Nowhere in the world has Obama's inept handling of foreign affairs done more to squander the goodwill he gained by replacing Bush and becoming America's first black president. Even if Snowden's leaks about National Security Agency spying hadn't put the relationship in a deep freeze in 2013, Brazilians were already cool to the idea that Obama just wasn't that into them.

Libya: F

The political haggling over the Benghazi attacks has obscured a bigger failure from this effort to showcase the "smart diplomacy" of Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The end of Moammar Gadhafi's regime unleashed a flood of modern weaponry and trained fighters across northern Africa, which continued to cause problems in 2013. Libyan-based militants aided a Jan. 16, 2013, attack by Islamists on a natural gas facility in Algeria. At about the same time, the French bailed Obama out in Mali, where Islamist rebels -- bolstered by looted arms from Libya -- had launched a reign of terror and threatened the destruction of priceless cultural resources in Timbuktu. Even so, the administration spent much of the year planning to introduce more arms and lethal training to Libyan militias, some of whom -- according to a recent New York Times report -- may have taken part in the Benghazi attack.

View article comments Leave a comment