Mea Culpa - Foreign Policy

I have received quite a bit of blow-back for last week’s suggestion that Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy performance has made her a powerful Democratic choice for VP, and perhaps for president. My point was about her political position; the Obama foreign policy legacy is a longer (and sadder) story, but it might as well begin here.

The big picture:

1. After a doubling of our forces in Afghanistan (truly Obama’s war), we are drawing down there, have exited Iraq (where America’s influence is rapidly being eclipsed by Iran), and have had a very light footprint in places such as Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.  Al Queda is decimated, but anti-Western Muslim fundamentalism lives; we just confront it in the way that Donald Rumsfeld advocated – with small special forces operations, the CIA, and the TSA. Most would agree that it is good to be ending the larger post-9/11 wars, and that the administration is “directionally correct.”

2. To a large extent Obama tried to reach out to our adversaries – Iran; North Korea; Cuba – offering talks with no preconditions, while slighting many friends: Great Britain (removing Churchill’s bust from the Capitol for example), Canada (the XL Pipeline for example); Mexico (Fast and Furious for example); Poland (missile defense agreements for example.) This got missile tests in Korea and the back of a hand from Iran and Castro. There have been few gestures of solidarity with other major allies – Japan (despite the potential to help after the tsunami), Germany (who seems to be alone in defending financial integrity in Europe), Israel (advocating a return to the ’67 borders). The” re-set” of the relation with Russia is over, as evidenced by Putin’s snub of the upcoming G-8 meeting in New York. Overall, it has been a naive rookie performance – more like Jimmy Carter than Nixon or Reagan.

3. For neo-isolationists on the Left and Right who think that the US should not get involved in other countries’ affairs Obama has generally been good news. The Arab Spring has come and gone with little effort by the US to help bend it in the direction of western democracy – first in Iran in 2009, then in Egypt and Libya, and now in Syria, where an overthrow of Assad would be a blow to Iran. The Obama Doctrine was accurately described in the liberal New Yorker as “leading from behind”.

4. Not much karma has been used in defending American companies around the world. Trade with China – including exchange rates, intellectual property protection, and Chinese import restrictions on things such as automotive products – is a big issue which Romney will emphasize. Brazil’s criminal prosecution of US oil industry executives for a relatively small spill draws no response. And then, there is no administration response to having the world’s highest corporate income tax rate.

In political terms, Obama’s general retreat from the international stage may have been what people want – reflecting exhaustion from the Iraq and Afghan wars. The bad news is that the world is a dangerous place (particularly Iran, Pakistan, and Korea) while America’s economic success is inevitably tied to our position as the world’s economic, political, monetary, and military leader – and the result of electing a president whose inclinations are against business and the military has been predictable.


This week we have two videos: one in France where  the victorious Socialist, Francois  Hollande, has promised a 75% tax on the French 1%; the other in Oakland where we may soon have a combined state/federal rate of over 60% with the proposals of President Obama and Governor Brown.