Obama is focusing too much on the bad stuff

  Everyone’s weighing in on Barack Obama’s first year, and I suppose I can’t resist — with the caveat that it’s far too early to judge his presidency, etc., etc. I’m worried, frankly, but perhaps not for the same reasons as some other folks might be. Here’s my overarching concern: Obama is focusing on foreign-policy ...

575126_091224_whitehouse2.jpg
575126_091224_whitehouse2.jpg
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 24: U.S. President Barack Obama walks along the colonade between the West Wing and the residence before leaving the White House December 24, 2009 in Washington, DC. The first family will spend Christmas and New Year in Hawaii. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

Everyone's weighing in on Barack Obama's first year, and I suppose I can't resist -- with the caveat that it's far too early to judge his presidency, etc., etc.

I'm worried, frankly, but perhaps not for the same reasons as some other folks might be. Here's my overarching concern: Obama is focusing on foreign-policy problems, not opportunities. He's stabilizing the U.S. economy, working the Iran nuclear issue, trying to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring peace in Israel/Palestine, struggling to contain a dangerous situation in Pakistan, and renegotiating nuclear treaties with the far-off goal being a world without atomic weapons.

 

Everyone’s weighing in on Barack Obama’s first year, and I suppose I can’t resist — with the caveat that it’s far too early to judge his presidency, etc., etc.

I’m worried, frankly, but perhaps not for the same reasons as some other folks might be. Here’s my overarching concern: Obama is focusing on foreign-policy problems, not opportunities. He’s stabilizing the U.S. economy, working the Iran nuclear issue, trying to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring peace in Israel/Palestine, struggling to contain a dangerous situation in Pakistan, and renegotiating nuclear treaties with the far-off goal being a world without atomic weapons.

Working these tough issues is necessary, especially after the mess George W. Bush left behind, and I don’t have too many gripes about the new president’s approach to them. What Obama’s not doing, however, is more worrisome. He’s not presenting a positive vision of a prosperous world, and he’s spending too much time worrying about  failing backwaters like Yemen and Afghanistan and too little time thinking about the places that work, like East Asia and Europe.

Yes, it’s true that in this day and age, threats can come from anywhere and failed states are often  incubators of terrorism and instability. Duly noted. Yet the United States became a globla hegemon not only by being the world’s policeman and firefighter, but also by being its banker, lawyer, and retailer.

Obviously, the financial crisis has hurt America’s economic credibility, but there are still plenty of countries eager to trade with the United States. A great example of a missed opportunity is Obama’s recent trip to Asia, where the region’s dynamic leaders were clearly disappointed that the U.S. president had so little to offer them on trade. Or look at Europe, where elites are feeling snubbed by perhaps the most “European” American president in recent memory.

Now that the health-care bill seems to be on its way to becoming law, and the economy is recovering, I hope Obama will start to focus on the future he wants to build for the world, not just the dangers he hopes to neutralize.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.