Shadow Government

Grading Obama’s first 100 days: Aaron Friedberg

Consistency of concept: A Evan Thomas reports that, while attending a Washington Redskins game in the late 1960s,Henry Kissinger objected to a referee’s call by yelling out "on vat theory?!" Whatever one thinks of it, the Obama administration clearly has a theory. Virtually everything that it has said and done to date — from announcing ...

Consistency of concept: A

Evan Thomas reports that, while attending a Washington Redskins game in the late 1960s,Henry Kissinger objected to a referee’s call by yelling out "on vat theory?!" Whatever one thinks of it, the Obama administration clearly has a theory. Virtually everything that it has said and done to date — from announcing the closure of Guantanamo, to the president’s "grip and grin" with Hugo Chavez, to his declared intention to seek the elimination of nuclear weapons — appears aimed at refilling the reservoir of American "soft power."   By apologizing (whether implicitly or explicitly) for what it regards as the mistakes of its predecessor, adopting a new and more humble tone, and expressing a willingness to "hit the reset button" in relations with autocratic regimes from Havana and Caracas to Moscow and Tehran, the administration hopes to gain goodwill, mobilize support, and set the stage for an omni-directional diplomatic offensive. 

Execution: B

President Obama’s opening moves have been marred by an excessive eagerness that risks being read in some capitals as an indication of weakness.  This is not simply a matter of smiling at Chavez or bowing to King Abdullah, though those gestures probably don’t help convey a sense of steely resolve. The administration has also dropped preconditions for talks with Iran and hinted broadly to Russia at its lack of enthusiasm for building missile defense installations in Eastern Europe. Assuming that they do open the way for negotiations, these gestures have also probably driven up the price of whatever deals the United States is ultimately able to obtain. 

Results: Incomplete

Whether all of this will produce the intended results is far from clear. The early indications are not good. Obama was welcomed with open arms in Europe, but when it came to getting more help in Afghanistan, he came back empty-handed. Tehran has responded to Washington’s gestures of friendship by convicting an American journalist of espionage. But these are early days.

Aaron Friedberg

Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1987, and co-director of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Center for International Security Studies.

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