President Obama entered office with the notion that he was going to “restore” America’s standing in the world. By that Obama meant ending enhanced interrogation, closing Guantanamo and trying terrorists in civilian courts. He achieved just one objective, and we can debate whether enhanced use of drones (which kill innocents along with targets) and rendition to unsavory places are preferable to our own intelligence interrogation. Aside from killing Osama bin Laden (and then leaking obsessively about that and other intelligence activities), what has the administration accomplished in the world?
Whoever’s respect were we trying to earn by our adjustments in the war on jihadist terrorists (The nonjihadist Muslims? European elites? ) we now find ourselves: less able to influence events in the Middle East than any time since World War II, facing an Iranian regime closer to the getting a nuclear weapons capability, a raging war in Syria in which Al Qaeda stands to benefit from ongoing violence, a radicalized Egypt, an Israeli government contemplating unilateral action because the administration is utterly unreliable, and a complete collapse of the “peace process.”
Obama completed the wind-down in Iraq following the Bush administration’s victory, although he botched (intentionally or not) negotiations to allow U.S. troops to remain as a stabilizing influence. The critical war that Obama told us was essential to win in Afghanistan has now become a rush to the exits, as we define downward our objectives. Have we improved our standing with the Afghan government? Earned the respect or cooperation of Pakistan?
In no instance have we earned the trust of allies or the respect of foes. Indeed we’ve alienated both the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis; shown ourselves to be toothless both to Bashar al-Assad and the rebels; and disappointed Eastern European allies while emboldening Russia.
In our own hemisphere we frittered our moral standing away in Cuba, took up the cause of Hugo Chavez's stooge in Honduras (who eventually was forced to concede), been passive in the face of the growing cooperation between Chavez and the Iranians and stalled in ratifying two free-trade agreements (Panama and Colombia) due to Big Labor pressure.
And finally, unless Congress is able to force Obama to agree, we will see across-the-board cuts to defense spending that, according to our secretary of defense, will imperil our national security.
Did Obama cause these problems? Not all of them, but in many cases, he did. Is Congress also responsible for defense sequestration? Yes, although the House has tried to solve the problem by passing an alternative package of cuts. But as on domestic policy, Obama has not done what he promised. Our influence is diminished, our credibility is damaged and our moral standing is eroded (due to a human rights record that is nothing short of shameful). We stand on the precipice of either an Israeli-Iranian war or a nuclear-armed Iran. In what is surely the greatest moral and geo-political failure in our lifetimes, Obama failed to stand with the Green Revolution, an grievous error of omission that will have consequences for years to come.
Obama measures “success” in our ability to extract ourselves from the world’s hot spots and in deference to international bodies that do not share our interests and values. He is big on “winding down” and indifferent to “winning.” We are stymied by the United Nations, China and Russia because he cannot contemplate incurring the ire of the “international community.” Conflict avoidance has become his primary objective.
To their convention the Democrats have invited Jimmy Carter to speak via video. I find that altogether fitting; not since Carter have we had a president so confused as to how the world operates and so inept in projecting American strength and values. And not since Carter have we seen so clearly how dangerous and grotesque the world can become without effective U.S. leadership.