Commentary Magazine


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Will Obama Always Wind Up In the Right Place?

Citing Winston Churchill’s famous observation that America always does the right thing after exhausting all other options, Max Boot wrote yesterday that President Obama’s foreign policy could be described similarly: “Obama usually winds up in the right place . . . [but] only after a long period of hesitation and study. . . . He is the commander-in-chief as professor, always eager to immerse himself in the details, to study every option, to avoid action until it is absolutely unavoidable.” According to this theory, Obama painfully dithered—but he dumped Mubarak; intervened in Libya; surged in Afghanistan; and sanctioned Assad.

We will need a little more time to determine if precipitously dumping Mubarak was “wind[ing] up in the right place.” It is not clear the front-loaded, time-limited, buck-passing kinetic military action in Libya will be studied in the future as an example of a right-place ending either. The time-limited three-quarters surge in Afghanistan (with Obama approving 30,000 of the 40,000 troops requested, coupled with a specified date for them to start coming home) is not yet a success. And the sanctions on Assad, like those on Iran, may not be as “crippling” as initially advertised.

In other words, the stories in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran are still in progress, and it is a little early to declare that Professor Obama has passed the test in any of them. We do know, however, that Obama today failed the test Max set forth in his post:

Now the key test will be his speech tomorrow at the State Department. Will he give up one of his major remaining illusions—that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is of central importance in the region and can only be solved by American pressure on Israel?

Last year, the Palestinians walked away from negotiations (having been dragged to them after ignoring the Israeli settlement construction moratorium); ignored Obama’s personal demand they not go to the UN regarding settlements; entered into a reconciliation agreement with Hamas; and now plan to go back to the UN again, in direct violation of their obligation to settle all final status issues in negotiations rather than unilateral acts. Obama just responded by endorsing one of the key Palestinian demands regarding borders, instead of leaving the issue to negotiations.

Churchill had a word for this.