- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012


In his State of the Union speech, President Obama tried to make the case that he has been one of the most successful chief executives in American history when it comes to foreign affairs. “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned,” he said, “doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” But it takes more than being briefed on the Osama bin Laden takedown to make a great leader. The vast gulf between Mr. Obama’s promises and his results argues against him.

The Obama foreign-policy team came to town with visions of creating a new and more perfect world. It envisaged a break with the policies of the George W. Bush administration, a resurrection of U.S. prestige and a new age of global cooperation and peace. Mr. Obama hoped his pledges to close the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; extend full constitutional protection to foreign terrorists; and end the Bush-era enhanced-interrogation techniques - which he called torture - would signal this clean break and immediately establish his credibility.

Amid this almost hysterical sense of optimism, he was handed a Nobel Peace Prize. Unearned awards aside, the president failed to fulfill the first two of his promises, and his stand against torture only served to justify and affirm the charges leveled by America’s critics, which have continued.

The “grand designs” of the first year of Mr. Obama’s presidency were practically dead on arrival. The Mideast peace process, which was not only to settle the Israeli-Palestinian issue but also tie in Iran and other problem countries, has ground to a halt because of shifting signals and lack of trust from all sides. The notion of a comprehensive regional peace agreement between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan has been downgraded to secret talks with the Taliban seeking an expeditious and face-saving U.S. exit. Mr. Obama’s “Global Zero” nuclear strategy has become a cover for U.S. unilateral disarmament, and his vaunted “Muslim outreach” effort has been a zero indeed.

With his grand designs frustrated, Mr. Obama entered the “lead from behind” phase of his presidency, in which he sought to claim credit for circumstances that were occurring whether he was involved or not. This well fit his dithering, slow-rolling approach to foreign affairs, especially when fast-moving events took the White House by surprise. The Arab Spring, which the administration failed to predict and then attempted to take credit for, was an opportunity to reshape the map of the Middle East to promote stability and human rights. But lacking a strategy or concrete goals, Mr. Obama settled on making vague statements about “dignity” and allowing Islamic radicals to seize the initiative.

Now there is not even an illusion of U.S. leadership. Mr. Obama claimed that “the renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe.” But this is simply not true. America no longer shapes events but is shaped by them. The White House is in a reactive posture, with no strategy, no designs and no concrete goals - only a vague sense of uncertainty and dread. Mr. Obama and his national-security team await the actions of other actors, such as Iran, Israel, Russia, China or North Korea, and hope they can adapt to circumstances when the time comes. The Defense Department has been reduced to a vehicle for finding budget “savings,” and the State Department is irrelevant. U.S. global power has declined, its influence has lessened, and the White House refuses to admit that there is a problem, let alone propose a solution.

America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Mr. Obama claimed. Yet his three years in office have rendered the United States weak, uncertain and timid.  Bin Laden famously said, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” What a tired old mare the United States has become under Mr. Obama.

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