Barack Obama’s First Year in Foreign Policy
This past year has not been a successful year for the 44th President of the United States. Although the Barack Obama Administration has had the incredible luxury of having its own political party – the Democrats – control the House of Representatives and the Senate by wide margins, there has been little progress on domestic and international issues. Obama and his team have the ability to pass any bill and create any new law they want without relying on a single Republican vote. And yet, the Obama Administration has failed to capitalize on that advantage. As Obama came into office, he promised lots of change. But so far, not much has changed. Domestically, the United States is facing the largest unemployment in decades and the American budget deficit is at an all time high. Internationally, the United States may now appear to be more popular but it’s largely because we aren’t asking countries to do much these days. The Obama team isn’t leading the world. They have chosen the easy path of non-confrontation. Copenhagen is proof. Sadly, the Administration has confused popularity with progress. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy priorities over the last year:
Consecutive United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iran were passed during the Bush Administration and the pressure was placed on the Iranian government to stop enriching uranium. Resolution 1737 imposed strict sanctions on the Government of Iran and was passed unanimously by the Security Council on December 23, 2006 after weeks of negotiations and stalling tactics from China and Russia. Resolutions 1696, 1747 and 1803, all passed during the Bush Administration, kept the pressure mounting on Iran to abide by the international community’s demands to suspend all nuclear enrichment activity. Despite grumblings from Security Council members about having to vote for such measures, the Bush Administration forced the votes and in the end was able to get multiple resolutions passed with unanimous support. Where Bush successfully isolated the Government of Iran, the Obama Administration has eased the pressure on them and the members of the Security Council. Instead of building on all of the work that had been done to negotiate sanctions, the Obama Administration pushed the “reset button” and started over, thereby releasing the mounting pressure. The Russians and Chinese were relieved that UN resolution negotiations were not proceeding with urgency. China and Russia even complimented the Obama Administration as a group of “good listeners” and the new process as “respectful”. The Government of Iran, too, was pleased to have more time to enrich uranium and less pressure to stop their delivery system testing. The Obama Administration hasn’t produced a single UN Security Council resolution on Iran since it took office – the last one passed by President Bush a full 15 months ago. The Obama Administration’s policy on Iran has been a complete failure and has only strengthened Iran’s resolve.
President Obama’s December announcement that he will send 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan was a welcomed sign for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the Obama team spent too much time fretting over their decision to add the troops because it would upset activists in the Democratic Party, Obama’s decision was a courageous one. Democratic leaders, however, are not pleased with the President’s decision. Nancy Pelosi recently said that it will be up to President Obama to make his own case for the troop increase because lawmakers are skeptical and Dennis Kucinich has vowed to offer a bill that would pull all American troops from Afghanistan immediately. President Obama is now in the uncomfortable position of having to count on Republicans to support his troop increase decision and give him one of his few victories this year. Obama’s announcement now makes the war in Afghanistan his war to win or lose. In Pakistan, the Obama team has a mixed record over the last year. While making the Afghanistan announcement in conjunction with a new robust strategy to confront terrorists in Pakistan, the Obama team has signaled their willingness to think strategically in the region. For America, a successful Afghanistan strategy can only be achieved when al-qaeda and the Taliban are wiped out in both countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan alone is of no strategic value to the United States. While we hope that democracy can be achieved for the people of Afghanistan and that they will be able to have a greater quality of life, these pursuits of human rights and development should be led by the United Nations. Pakistan, however, is a more important strategic partner for the United States and Obama has yet to recognize it. Ensuring that the Government of Pakistan is able to deal with its extremists should be a top priority for America. So far, Obama has not been able to develop a strategy to deal with President Asif Zadari and the growing anti-Americanism in his country.
Candidate Obama promised to pull troops from Iraq as soon as he took office. But President Obama learned that it wasn’t possible. Republicans were pleased that Obama took the advice of his military advisors and changed his policy but his Democratic colleagues have continued to complain about a campaign promise that is still unfulfilled. In trying to capitalize on the growing American frustration over the lack of progress in Iraq, candidate Obama outmaneuvered Hilary Clinton and then John McCain. The many Americans who voted for Obama because they wanted the troops to come home from Iraq have also been disappointed. But the Administration is gambling that an emphasis on a troop increase in Afghanistan and a new robust strategy for Pakistan will insulate them from charges of military weakness in Iraq.
Israel and Palestine
Perhaps the one issue that brought Arabs around the world the most hope for progress with the election of Barack Obama was the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Even some in America were hopeful that Obama would be able to reassure the Palestinians and America’s historical tie with Israel would be sufficient enough to bring the parties together to form a permanent peace. But Barack Obama stumbled early on with his Cairo speech and his directive on settlements. He failed to challenge Arabs to act during his Cairo speech and it was seen by Israel and many in America as a missed opportunity. His public instruction that Israel cease all settlement activity was also a misstep. American Presidents can privately cajole and push the parties to negotiate but no American President can dictate to the parties what should be done. Obama must learn that the Palestinians and the Israelis must each bargain and agree to the terms of any peace deal on their own if it is to last.