Grading Obama’s first 100 days: Will Inboden
I would give him a B-. In the early sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia wrote The Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monks living in the Benedictine monasteries then beginning to proliferate throughout Europe. In it he admonished the head abbots of each monastery to lead the younger monks with gentleness, since a good ...
I would give him a B-.
I would give him a B-.
In the early sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia wrote The Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monks living in the Benedictine monasteries then beginning to proliferate throughout Europe. In it he admonished the head abbots of each monastery to lead the younger monks with gentleness, since a good abbot should "aim to be loved rather than feared." Though the principles of what will become an "Obama Doctrine" are still being developed, the emerging contours seem to be very much inspired by St. Benedict (and not, as many readers will no doubt call to mind, Machiavelli’s dictum of 1,000 years later that "it is better to be feared than to be loved.")
The stylistic highlights of President Obama’s foreign policy thus far consist of a series of apologies, conciliations, and gestures of outreach, to inter alia, Europe, the Islamic world, Russia, China, Iran, Burma, Cuba, Venezuela, Latin America collectively, and even the United Nations Human Rights Council. Now, conciliatory gestures in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, and in many cases can be warranted and constructive, even necessary. Especially if such gestures lead to concrete progress in advancing American interests and values.
But three things in particular are troubling about the Obama administration’s Benedictine predilection. First, it has been indulged in with such consistency, sanctimony, and zeal that it risks creating a meta-narrative of a weak, insecure, apologetic America that is reluctant to lead, unsure of its own power, and unwilling to make the hard but needful choices that might hurt short-term global approval ratings. Second, the apologies and conciliatory gestures have rarely been balanced by statements of moral clarity about the nature and intentions of America’s adversaries (whether they be violent jihadists, Iranian mullahs, Latin American despots, or North Korean dictators), clear statements of American resolve, or confidence in American principles. Third, it has yet to produce tangible results.
On this last point I am entirely sympathetic that it is too soon to tell, and the first 100 days is an absurdly brief window in which to expect foreign policy progress. In international relations, results are usually measured over years, decades, even centuries. Still, even a cursory snapshot of the world today is unsettling:
Ayatollah Khameini himself dismissed Obama’s outreach, and Iran’s nuclear program continues unabated. European nations have shown little willingness to tighten sanctions on Iran, make a meaningful increase in their troop force contribution or posture in Afghanistan, or agree to U.S. pleas to adopt economic stimulus measures to address the economic crisis. Kim Jong Il test-fired a ballistic missile, expelled humanitarian organizations, and suffered no consequences. The Taliban is increasing its power and territorial control in Pakistan. The Castro regime remains entrenched in Cuba, and a newly emboldened Chavez seems poised for another round of regional mischief-making. A confident China harasses American naval ships and hectors the United States about debt repayments, while enjoying a respite from any American pressure on its human rights abuses. Al Qaeda remains alive and well and harboring evil intentions. Meanwhile, traditional and emerging allies such as Japan, Australia, and India are left wondering how much they still matter to the United States.
To be sure, many of these challenges at this point should not be blamed on the Obama administration, and there are enough positive signs to warrant the "B minus" grade in the interim. For example, the substance of the new Afghanistan-Pakistan policy is promising, as is Obama’s unwillingness to precipitously abandon a fragile Iraq that is at least on a promising trajectory. As Phil Levy points out, Obama’s international economic policy is not as reckless as his campaign promises, judging by his refusal to sanction China as a currency violator or renege on NAFTA commitments. And since foreign policies are judged finally on their results, much remains to be seen on what kinds of results the Obama administration will deliver in the coming months and years, especially in response to the grim international situation it confronts.
Still, if the present trajectory continues, the United States risks becoming neither loved nor feared.
Will Inboden is the executive director of the Clements Center for National Security and an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, both at the University of Texas at Austin, a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the author of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
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