First, Obama’s foreign policy is going to have very few defenders over the next two years outside of the White House. With the partial exception of Rand Paul, all of the Republicans are going to be way more hawkish than Obama. This means you’re going to hear variations on this theme from the GOP for the next two years. As for the Democrats, all the extant evidence suggests that Hillary Clinton is more hawkish than Barack Obama.
So the criticisms of Obama are all going to come from the same direction, and they’re going to come from both Democrats and Republicans. Furthermore, these criticisms are not going to come just from the candidates — they’re going to come from every foreign policy wonk who’s advising them/aspiring to work for them. This doesn’t mean these critiques are necessarily wrong. The bipartisan nature of the critique is likely to persist, however.
Second, if Obama’s foreign policy team is smart, it will use the specter of a hawkish successor as a way to bolster its negotiating position for the next year. From now to early 2017, the Obama administration is negotiating at the global stage over Iran, TPP, TTIP, climate change, Ukraine and perhaps North Korea. Obama’s negotiators should intimate that whomever the president will be in 2017, they’re going to be far less likely to compromise on any of these issues.
The great thing about this is that the 2016 candidates will be making Obama’s case for him. The one thing the 2016 campaign will produce in ample quantities is hawkish rhetoric. All Obama’s team has to do is point to these statements to make the case to the other side of the negotiating table about the need to deal now.
To be clear, this gambit won’t necessarily produce deals. They might nudge counterparts in Iran, the Pacific Rim, and so forth in a productive direction, however.