Tomorrow, President Obama will chair a special nuclear-disarmament meeting by the United Nations Security Council. The White House bills this as a historic first, but it is typical of Mr. Obama’s emphasis on style over substance. He will appear before the body with the weakest foreign-policy record of any new U.S. president in recent memory. An around-the-world tour of international hot spots shows that for all the president’s lofty rhetoric, he can point to precious few accomplishments.
In the Middle East, Mr. Obama’s unprecedented obsequiousness in dealing with the Muslim world has generated no tangible returns. The leading Arab states repeatedly have declined to budge toward compromise to push the regional peace process forward, and they show no signs of normalizing relations with Israel. Palestinians refuse to talk to Israelis until they agree to a settlement freeze on the West Bank, and Israel has reportedly responded to Mr. Obama’s call for a freeze by saying it will go ahead and build 2,500 new housing units.
Nor has Mr. Obama’s outreach effort translated into a general sense of good will. A May 2009 University of Maryland survey of the Middle East showed that those with a very or somewhat favorable view of the United States increased only 3 percent between 2008 and 2009, from an anemic 15 percent to 18 percent.
In Afghanistan, the president has hit turbulence within his own party, and as the going gets tough, he seems ready to repudiate his “stronger and smarter” strategy after only six months. He is balking at supplying the troops necessary to stave off disaster, and the growing discussion in Washington is now how the administration can minimize the political damage of a defeat in Afghanistan.
North Korea has continued to be openly belligerent, testing a nuclear weapon and long-range missile, withdrawing from the 1953 armistice agreement with South Korea, and declaring it will weaponize its plutonium stocks. In response, the United States unilaterally conceded to long-standing North Korean demands for bilateral talks.
North Korea’s success has encouraged Iran to move forward with its own nuclear program. The Islamic regime has agreed to talks Mr. Obama requested, but the mullahs refuse to negotiate the nuclear issue. The United States finds itself to the left of the United Nations and France on the question of acknowledging that Iran even has a nuclear-weapons program, which is quite an achievement.
Wary of Iran, other Middle Eastern states are gearing up for nuclear programs, unconvinced by U.S. promises of extending a defensive umbrella. The Eastern European umbrella was abruptly closed when the Obama administration abandoned the missile-defense deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic last week. This move drew plaudits from Moscow, which had registered strenuous objections and was not asked to make any reciprocal concessions to match the U.S. surrender. Russia continues militarily to occupy a significant part of Georgia, an American ally, and conducts business as usual with Iran and other troublemaking states.
Actions in Mr. Obama’s world are consequence-free. The only country the Obama team has tried to strong-arm is Honduras, which is desperately trying to stave off a socialist takeover by an anti-American autocrat whom the State Department has concluded is worthy of full U.S. support. This has delighted Cuban dictators Raul and Fidel Castro and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who are very willing to let the United States carry their water. Venezuela, meanwhile, has signed a major arms deal with Russia, continues to build the anti-Gringo “Bolivarian” bloc, bullies U.S. ally Colombia and plans to launch its own nuclear program.
Then there is the catalogue of Mr. Obama’s embarrassing moments on the world stage, a list which includes: giving England’s Queen Elizabeth II an iPod with his speeches on it; giving British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a collection of DVDs that were not formatted to the European standard (by contrast, Mr. Brown gave Mr. Obama an ornamental desk-pen holder made from the oak timbers of Victorian anti-slaver HMS Gannet, among other historically significant gifts); calling “Austrian” a language; bowing to the Saudi king; releasing a photo of a conference call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which the president was showing the soles of his shoes to the camera (an Arab insult); saying “let me be absolutely clear. Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s”; saying the United States was “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world”; suggesting Arabic translators be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan where Arabic is not a native language; sending a letter to French President Jacques Chirac when Nicolas Sarkozy was the president of France; holding a town-hall meeting in France and not calling on a single French citizen; and referring to “Cinco de Cuatro” in front of the Mexican ambassador when he meant Cinco de Mayo. Also of note was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a “reset” button with the Russian word for “overcharge.”
Progress toward an international agreement on global climate change has stalled, an administration failure which we applaud. We also approve of the highly effective expanded attacks by drone aircraft against terrorist targets in Pakistan, a policy implemented by President George W. Bush in August 2008. Mr. Obama was likewise successful in ordering the taking out of three teenage Somali pirates by Navy snipers in April after the outlaws took an American ship’s captain hostage. In other words, President Obama’s most successful policies thus far have been his selective killings. It’s not exactly a program he can build on.