Grading Obama’s first 100 days: Christian Brose
I would give him a C+. Back in December, I wrote that President Obama’s foreign policy, with a few notable exceptions, would be broadly continuous with what he’d inherit from President Bush. I think the first 100 days have mostly borne that out, despite the administration’s claims to the contrary. That boosts Obama’s marks for ...
I would give him a C+.
I would give him a C+.
Back in December, I wrote that President Obama’s foreign policy, with a few notable exceptions, would be broadly continuous with what he’d inherit from President Bush. I think the first 100 days have mostly borne that out, despite the administration’s claims to the contrary. That boosts Obama’s marks for me.
What he has done thus far on major issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, North Korea, and preempting terrorism is basically consistent with what a third Bush term would have brought. I would include Iran here too. Notwithstanding some tweaks of tone and tactics to Bush’s sticks-and-carrots strategy, there hasn’t yet been a fundamental break with it (or breakthrough, to be fair). Some promises of change, especially on NAFTA and China’s currency, have been broken. Other promises, like closing Gitmo and reaching an effective international agreement on climate change, are proving far harder to achieve than to make. Still other promises, of new beginnings for allies and enemies alike, are more style than substance — for now — which should temper both Obama’s boosters and his critics. And when it comes to Pakistan, the hardest and most serious problem in the world, we still have more of an aspiration than a strategy, which I’m not even sure it’s possible to have.
Still, the first 100 days is all about positioning. The truest way to grade any president in this limited time is not by what he accomplishes, but what he sets himself up to accomplish later. And that’s where I begin to deduct points.
Yes, the world is looking anew at America because of Obama, and we shouldn’t downplay the potential benefits that could bring, though it’s brought no substantial ones thus far. And as for Obama apologizing in platitudes and generalities for America’s alleged transgressions — for all I care, he can apologize to the world, in detail, for the many ways that I have dishonored my family name if that stops Iran from getting the bomb or helps us win the wars we’re fighting. But there’s no proof in that pudding yet either.
I’m more concerned about other things right now. For example, the state of the State and Treasury Departments, which remain woefully under-staffed, if we can even call them staffed at all. Our troops are beginning to leave Iraq, but our ambassador still hasn’t gotten there. And whatever was gained by releasing the Bush administration memos on interrogation, it will be dwarfed many times over by the way Obama changed his tune on prosecutions, the broad fear of legal action that has stoked throughout our intelligence agencies, and increasingly our military too, and the resulting risk aversion that all of this will foster in our national security bureaucracy. The pendulum had swung too far toward one troubling extreme during the past several years, but now I fear it’s heading quickly toward the other extreme.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking loudly on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and we seem only to have added more carrots to our policy but no more apparent sticks. Policy on Afghanistan is generally good, but when it comes to implementation of it in the field, we still don’t appear to be moving fast enough to position ourselves correctly now so that the next few years can be decisive. That means changes to our campaign plan, command structure, and our expectations of NATO, whose top priority still seems to be alliance solidarity. All the while, we are running up huge budget deficits at home that will (at best) constrain the investments we so desperately need to make in our institutions of diplomacy and development, to say nothing of the end strength and equipment of our ground forces.
So where does this leave us? Overall, an average start. Not bad, but not distinguished either. As with most courses, though, the beginning is all reading and preparation. The real tests come later, and they are weighted far more heavily.
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