To understand the true nature of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, look where the action isn’t. In Honduras, where his party is still trying to undo the events of 2009
, when a pro-Chavez autocrat was constitutionally removed from power and replaced in a democratic election. In Canada, where his administration has blocked the Keystone XL pipeline
and prompted our neighbor to turn to China in an effort to market its oil supply.
In Russia, where Hillary Clinton seems to have abandoned her commitment to “reset” relations and is back to condemning
Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism. In Britain, which Obama has snubbed repeatedly, most recently by supporting Argentinian claims
that the Falkland Islands are still disputed. At the UN Human Rights Council, which just adopted a report praising Libya’s human rights record
under Qaddafi without U.S. objection.
On the front-page issues, Obama has largely been dragged--by military and political necessity--into reversing course and doing the right thing some of the time: keeping the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay open; accelerating the Bush administration’s drone program and anti-terror policies; increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, albeit temporarily; and confronting the naval threat posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz.
These gains have been undermined by foot-dragging on confronting Iranian nuclear ambitions; opposition to democracy in the Middle East except where it threatens pro-Western regimes; a sudden withdrawal from Iraq against the advice of U.S. military leaders; a firm deadline for pulling out of Afghanistan, emboldening the Taliban; and, above all, Obama’s mistreatment of Israel, which has only made peace less likely.
The killing of Osama bin Laden was, no doubt, a victory for which Obama can claim credit--with the giant caveat that it would have been impossible without a U.S. presence in Iraq and enhanced interrogation, both of which then-Senator Obama opposed. The clumsy way the administration first pretended bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, then attempted a quasi-Islamic burial at sea, emphasized its underlying policy confusion.
The simple reality is that Obama’s few foreign policy successes have come in cases where he can delegate responsibility to the U.S. armed forces--even if that means evading Congress, as he did in Libya. The true story of Obama’s failures--and his continuing ambition for a humbler America on the world stage--is told at the margins, beyond the media spotlight, where his appointees and ideas have enjoyed a freer hand.