Grading Obama

Foreign Policy

November 2, 2009

(Invited symposium)

Overall Grade: B-

President Barack Obama inherited two unpopular wars and a global financial crisis. Despite mostly continuing President George W. Bush’s policies, he’s rebooted America’s image in the world and avoided most of the landmines. His top-level foreign policy staff — from Vice President Joe Biden to National Security Advisor Jim Jones to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to the State Department’s Anne-Marie Slaughter — is superb. While I seriously questioned his choice of Hillary Clinton to become secretary of state, she’s mostly been solid. That said, he’s made some serious missteps on the security front with Afghanistan and Iran, and his relationship with Europe is not nearly as strong as it should be, given the warmth with which his election was received.

Afghanistan: C-. Obama carried out his campaign pledge to send more troops and to put more emphasis on the war but he quickly lost confidence and now seems mired in a struggle over grand strategy. He fired a competent general to replace him with another, presumably to double-down on counterinsurgency, and turned around three months later to question his own general’s recommendations for carrying out the obvious implications of said strategy.

Europe: B. Obama came into office with a huge popularity boost and was viewed as a breath of fresh air after eight years of Bush. But he’s fumbled the “special relationship” with Britain and has raised serious doubts in Eastern Europe. See my recent article for a detailed explanation.

Iran: C+. Jim Jones’ pronouncement that we could live with a nuclear Iran was a welcome step down from the previous talk about it being “unacceptable.” Unfortunately, the situation has been largely bungled from there, with Obama having seemingly returned to his campaign trail Pollyannaish view of the power of chit-chat.

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