Grading Obama’s first 100 days: Michael Singh
I give Obama a C+. During his campaign, President Obama spoke of the need for deep American involvement in international affairs, a notion that I and most others who care about foreign policy agree with wholeheartedly. At a time when the world faces significant threats — whether from the economic crisis, terrorism, arms proliferation, or ...
I give Obama a C+.
I give Obama a C+.
During his campaign, President Obama spoke of the need for deep American involvement in international affairs, a notion that I and most others who care about foreign policy agree with wholeheartedly. At a time when the world faces significant threats — whether from the economic crisis, terrorism, arms proliferation, or other factors — American leadership is needed more than ever, and a U.S. withdrawal from the world would be disastrous. One hundred days into the Obama presidency, the urgent need remains for the U.S. to embrace fully this leadership role.
In economic policy, the response of America’s political leadership to the economic crisis has suggested an uncertain commitment to free trade and free markets, which are vital to continued globalization and U.S. influence. It was not the principles of capitalism, but their shortsighted abuse and abandonment, which contributed to the present crisis. While Obama correctly emphasized at the G20 summit the importance of international economic cooperation, and has reversed campaign pledges that would have constrained such cooperation, as Phil Levy has noted, America’s global economic leadership begins at home. If we waver in our defense of the market economy, other countries will surely follow suit.
In foreign policy, the new administration needs to shift its focus from "getting along" with other countries, exemplified by its outreach to dictators in Iran, Venezuela, and elsewhere, to advancing U.S. interests. Ideally we should seek to accomplish both; when that is not possible, however, the latter must prevail. Indeed, in the long run, the advancement of U.S. interests and standing up for what is right will require friction even with allies in order to advance certain issues — for example, freedom and human rights, topics on which the new administration has been relatively quiet.
In the Middle East specifically, the Obama administration appears to be treading carefully and taking time to review its policies. Despite media commentary to the contrary, the new administration has made few radical departures from the policies of the Bush administration. Indeed, what we know thus far about the Obama approach to the Middle East is largely rhetorical and tactical in nature — for example, he intends to engage with Iran and Syria, and be deeply involved in the Arab-Israeli peace process. The deeper strategic questions about the new administration’s approach to the Middle East remain unanswered, however, and ultimately its strategy will depend not on words but on actions.
One reason to be optimistic regarding the policies that will ultimately emerge from the administration’s reviews is the president’s Middle East personnel choices. His Middle East advisors include several who are very knowledgeable and experienced, including Ambassador Jeff Feltman, a top-notch diplomat who has been nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He joins other capable hands such as Stuart Levey at Treasury and Bill Burns at State.
All in all, it is too early to judge Obama’s approach to the Middle East, and we owe him the benefit of our patience. What is certain, however, is that the Middle East remains central to American interests, and American leadership there is more vital than ever to the welfare of the U.S., the region, and the world.
Michael Singh is a senior fellow and the managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was a senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. Twitter: @MichaelSinghDC
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