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It’s an easy question to ask and it should be just as easy to answer: in his years in office, what foreign policy good has President Obama achieved?
I’ll give you a few seconds to compose an answer.
Or maybe you need a few minutes, instead?
To be clear, I am not asking about what foreign policy decisions President Obama has made. The President of the United States is tasked with taking foreign policy decisions daily. Some are relatively small, some are considerably more important, but all are influential at some level - this is the United States, the world’s sole remaining superpower, we are talking about here, after all.
So I’m not looking for foreign policy decisions. I’m looking for foreign policy good.
Perhaps you’ll offer me the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as a good. Or the withdrawal until the eventual re-introduction of forces to fight ISIS, a creature of international Islamist terror that probably would not have existed had Obama not pulled out in the first place. Suffice it to say, if the foreign policy good is ‘bringing troops home so that ISIS can flourish’, we’re going to be off to a bad start.
What about Libya? Sure, working with allies to knock of Ghadaffi was a good thing, or it was until the US and those allies left Libya to fall into a violent, internal struggle for power. How’s Libya working out in terms of stability these days?
The Obama administration took a stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Well, sort of. If a ‘stand’ is placing minimal sanctions on the Russian elite and standing by while Russia takes over Crimea and sets its eyes on the east of Ukraine, then a ‘stand’ the Obama administration took. But most observers would admit that this hasn’t slowed the Russians down all that much.
In the Asia-Pacific the Obama administration has been entirely wrong-footed by the Chinese. The launch of a rival to the Bretton-Woods international financial institutions backed by China, Russia, and eventually most of the US allies in the region and around the world saw the Obama administration embarrassed.
But wait: what about Cuba?, you might say.
Ah, Cuba. An authoritarian state just a boat ride from Florida that for years had found itself under embargo from the United States. The Obama administration has made modern history by consigning the embargo to the trashcan of history and proving to rogue states around the world that to overcome the most powerful country on Earth you only need to wait it out. Take note, North Korea and Iran: this message is directed to you.
Speaking of Iran, what has the Obama administration achieved there? If everything goes exactly as planned, if the Iranians agree to everything that the Obama administration assured the world they would, and if they do not cheat a single time during the first ten years of the deal, they will still be just as close to a nuclear weapon in 10 years time as they are today. That counts as a foreign policy win for the Obama team - pushing a problem out far enough from the current media news cycle so that the eventual failure gets blamed on someone else.
Is the US more adored in Europe now than during the years of the George W Bush administration? Hardly. Obama remains popular as a symbol, but the US has been caught out spying on allies and the European population at large - both are reasons that the US is not trusted on the continent, and for Obama agencies like the NSA and CIA being increasingly cast as the ‘bad guy’ in popular conversations across Europe.
But let’s not get sidetracked: what foreign policy goods has Obama achieved?
We know he has done little at all in Africa. Unlike his predecessor - George W Bush was hailed for his investment in and commitment to African development in general and the fight against AIDS in Africa specifically - Obama has done little. During his time in office the continent has turned to other powers with the will and desire to treat Africans as people and partners. China has led the way here, and large Chinese resource operations from the north to the south of the continent stand as evidence of this engagement from the East.
When it comes to the Muslim world, Obama somehow has a worse record than any of his predecessors. He has invaded or bombed more Muslim countries than George W Bush, and his drone strike program has seen countless noncombatants - and even American citizens - killed in strikes targeted at terrorists. Or people who are friends with terrorists. Or people who look like terrorists from 10,000 feet high on a computer monitor back stateside.
Again: what foreign policy good has Obama achieved?
The 2016 presidential election will be fought, in part, on foreign policy and national security. There will be candidates on both sides who will offer up alternatives to the Obama policies that have so far been so disastrous, and the world should be thankful that those alternatives are being offered. Obama has achieved little in foreign policy terms in his years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and both the US and the world are paying for his failures.
What are your views? Join the discussion in the comments section below.