January 20, 2010 | Commentary on President Barack Obama, Terrorism, International Conflicts

O's Year of Foreign-Policy Fumbles

Let me be clear (as President Obama loves to say): After a year in office, there isn't much for this White House to brag about foreign policy-wise, in spite of rhetorical flourishes and grandiose promises.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration's campaign-style, "biography based" approach to international affairs just isn't making the grade, especially on today's weighty issues.

Iran: Tehran's nuclear (weapons) program advances despite our drawing of a line in the sand, after line in the sand -- after line in the sand. News that Tehran has made strides in developing nuclear weapons, not just enriching uranium, only darkens the outlook.

Obama's response? Keep on threatening tougher sanctions>, even though we can't get Moscow or Beijing to agree to them -- while making plans to inevitably accept Tehran into the Mushroom Cloud Club.

And what about his snubbing of Iran's heroic dissident movement? Shameful.

North Korea: Pyongyang remains as troublesome as ever, immune to Obama's charms. It will likely light off another nuke this year -- and shoot more missiles in our direction. The "Norks" won't even return to the negotiating table.

China: The president's trip to Beijing last fall was a flop: He made no progress on opening the Chinese market to ease our $200-plus billion trade deficit, a would-be bennie to our still-stumbling economy.

Nor was Obama's personal intervention enough to get Beijing, the world's largest greenhouse-gas producer, onboard at the Copenhagen climate conference (not that it disappointed those who saw that treaty as an economic-growth killer).

Meanwhile, China's military build-up proceeds apace, scaring neighbors witless -- and now there are reports of Beijing extending its reach with its first permanent military base abroad, this one in the Arabian Sea.

Russia: Washington-Moscow ties are increasingly cold, despite White House affections. Sensing weakness, Russia is now holding America's European, anti-Iran missile-defense system hostage to strategic-arms-control reduction talks -- an Obama priority.

Worse, Washington cuddles with Moscow despite Russia's occupation of Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia; we've even put Georgia's (and Ukraine's) NATO membership on ice to appease the Bear.

Obama's Russia policy has left other former Soviet states nervous, too. Skipping ceremonies on the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall only bolstered the sense of indifference New Europe now feels from the New World.

And what exactly is it that we've gotten in return from the Kremlin?

Venezuela: Strongman Hugo Chavez continues to be problematic, cutting deals for Russian nuclear reactors and more arms, allowing narcotics traffickers to cross his country, harboring Colombian FARC terrorists and bankrolling the Latin American, anti-Yanqui Left.

And don't forget Chavez's "axis of unity" with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bad actors keep entering the region via regular Venezuela-Syria-Iran flights.

The White House's reaction? We sent our previously expelled ambassador back to Caracas.

But it's not all horrible news.

Iraq: While the situation is fragile and violence persists (at much lower levels), the Bush surge is working. Critical elections come this spring and US combat troops are due out this summer.

Terror: While the "Crotch Bomber" shows the Obama team hasn't improved the homeland-security system, they've maintained the Bush-era Predator drone strikes on al Qaeda overseas -- an approach that's still working.

Unfortunately, Obama's outreach to the Muslim world (e.g., the Cairo speech) basically has had no positive effect.

AfPak: It's too early to give a grade on this with a new strategy just in place, but the fight against the terrorists on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remains a challenge. The question is: What will the prez do if he doesn't get his quick victory?

Egged on by media fawning, Obama wrongly assumed he could turn Obama-chic abroad into foreign-policy results. Oops: Turns out countries (and groups like al Qaeda) act to promote their own interests, uninfluenced by anyone's popularity.

The world needs US leadership to deal with big problems. More than that, this country needs traction on these issues -- something, regrettably, that Obama has yet to deliver.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First Appeared in the New York Post