Criticism of President Obama’s dialogue-oriented foreign policy from the people who criticize it most can be summed up as thus: He’s a pushover and an apologist. He won’t get tough on enemies of America and/or her allies the way past Republican administrations did. He wastes American resources on military missions that don’t advance our interests. He bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia, which is BAD. But when we take a holistic look at his approach to particularly problematic nations, as the Christian Science Monitor did, how can we determine if it’s “worked?”
I’ll sum up their evaluations of the problematic nations in question:
- Iran: Earlier attempts at diplomacy have been abandoned and are unlikely to succeed now. Punitive measures are de rigueur, although Iran is still heading for nuclear status.
- Syria: The outlook for dialogue was fine until the Arab Spring, at which point Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became illegitimate. Little to no dialogue as of late. Syrian repression continues.
- North Korea: Started out hostile, moved toward negotiations until the death of Kim Jong-il. Outlook uncertain.
- Venezuela: Began on slightly improved terms from those of the last administration. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has returned to steadfast anti-Americanism since.
- Myanmar: Dialogue with U.S. vastly improved since the 1950s. Still much work to be done on democratic reform, but outlook is optimistic.
If we measure the success of a president’s foreign policy by the absence of new hostilities, Obama has done a decent job of keeping them quiet (for now). But this metric is too obvious. If we are measuring that same success by the presence of regime change, democracy, egalitarianism, free markets and disarmament, I can’t say anything has changed much since the previous administration.
But, as any foreign policy critic knows, it is not incumbent on any one country, not even the U.S., to make this happen. If Obama proved that his efforts have largely helped create a climate for these objectives to be met, we could call this aspect of his presidency a success. In an American context, this is how I define “clout,” and I’m not sure if the U.S. has gained or lost any.
It may seem odd that Iraq and Afghanistan were not discussed in the CSM piece, but since the U.S. was already at war with both when Obama took office, I suppose they didn’t apply. Why they didn’t include Libya or Egypt, I have no idea. That was silly.