- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2011

The second year of President Obama’s foreign-policy and national-security management continued the pattern of decline established in his first year. The unbridled and naive optimism that ill-served the country in Mr. Obama’s failed freshman outing gave way to a sense of policy drift in 2010. Even the president began to question whether the United States should maintain its primary global leadership role.

Mr. Obama’s first-week-in-office pledge to close the U.S. detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year remained unfulfilled, the upside of which is that it has reduced the number of terrorists being released to continue their deadly vocation against American interests. The administration’s related centerpiece policy of trying international terrorists in American domestic courts also hit rough water in the person of Ahmed Ghailani, who was charged with 285 counts related to al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania but found guilty of only one single crime. Now the White House is on the verge of declaring defeat and issuing an executive order affirming the unlimited detention of terror suspects. Mr. Obama is learning the price a president pays when lofty rhetoric meets hard reality.

Mr. Obama’s unprecedented outreach to the global Muslim community has gone bust. Despite continued obsequious gestures in their direction, numerous public opinion polls show marked declines in approval of the United States in the Middle East and North Africa, and in some cases the numbers are lower than when Mr. Obama took office. The effort has had no impact in reducing the threat of international terrorism and has engendered a sense of American weakness in the region. Now the Obama administration’s principle sign of outreach to Islam is the Ground Zero Mosque, a wretched symbol of a country that lacks the will to stand up for its own civilization.

The Middle East peace process is no farther along than it had been a year ago. The “proximity” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority evolved into direct talks in September and the Obama administration optimistically predicted a durable peace agreement within a year. The talks, of course, soon collapsed. Palestinians openly question why the United States should even be involved in the process, and prospects for a deal seem as remote as ever. Mr. Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, which was characterized as “a down payment” for future achievement, remains frozen in escrow.

The war in Afghanistan continued with mixed results. The International Security Assistance Force counterinsurgency strategy is making solid progress against the Taliban and the White House backed off the proposed large-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, accepting instead a more realistic 2014 pullout deadline. However, this progress comes at the cost of much higher casualties. U.S. deaths in Afghanistan in 2010 rose 57 percent over the previous year and are triple what they were in 2008. The total deaths in Afghanistan in 2010 are greater than the sum of the deaths suffered in the first seven years of the war, a period the president reflexively derides as a failure. According to a poll released this month by ABC News, the BBC, ARD and the Washington Post, the number of Afghans who view the United States favorably has dropped to 43 percent, down from 83 percent in 2005.

The year saw no solid progress in dealing with the threats posed by the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs. China continues to modernize its military and present new challenges to the U.S. presence in the Pacific. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is consolidating his power internally and posing an increasing threat in the Western Hemisphere. Iraqi President Jalal Talibani rebuffed a personal request from Mr. Obama and his funny sidekick, Vice President Joe Biden, to step aside in favor of ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On top of all this, the ongoing WikiLeaks document dumps have proved an enduring embarrassment to the administration, not only for the information they have revealed but for being outwitted at every turn by leaker in chief Julian Assange.

The politically wounded president enjoyed two last-minute victories when the lame-duck Congress flew to his rescue by ratifying the New START nuclear-arms treaty and repealing the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. These were only victories for Mr. Obama on the domestic political scene. The START agreement will weaken the U.S. nuclear deterrent and hamper future missile-defense deployments. Having openly homosexual troops will be devastating to morale in the armed forces, and in practice the new policy’s implementation will lead to the establishment of a privileged homosexual protected class with ramifications that will reach beyond military service.

The president’s defenders point to minor victories like his trip to India, a trade agreement with South Korea and the NATO summit in Lisbon. While these events bore some fruit, they are minor achievements for a year’s worth of effort and would go unnoticed in a more dynamic administration. Other notable events include the administration’s failure to rally the international community to impose global energy restrictions to counter purported global warming - a White House letdown that was a victory for everyone but climate alarmists - and continuing to expand the use of drone strikes against terrorists, a sensible policy that is generating low level murmurs of “war crimes” among Mr. Obama’s disappointed former supporters in the peace movement.

During his trip to India in November, Mr. Obama acknowledged and accepted America’s decline. “For most of my lifetime,” he said, “the U.S. was such an enormously dominant economic power … that we always met the rest of the world economically on our terms.” Now those days are over, which the president considers a good thing. Our nation also faces increased political competition from assertive rogue states, a resurgent Russia, looming China acquiring more U.S. debt and a variety of challenges the Obama national-security team has shown no ability to confront effectively. Mr. Obama would have us believe that American decline on his watch is inevitable, but he is as much its cause as its casualty.