Bret Stephens’ stellar column in the Wall Street Journal today succinctly summarizes President Obama’s record of foreign failures:
His failed personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. His failed personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in 2009. His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year and this year. His failed effort to improve America’s public standing in the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech. His failed reset with Russia. His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent settlement freeze. His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a residual U.S. military force in Iraq. His failed efforts to cut deals with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea. His failed effort to win over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria’s Bashar Assad. His failed efforts to intercede in Europe’s economic crisis.
Stephens credits Obama with success in Libya (although the kinetic military operation was conducted in “a reluctant, last-minute, half-embarrassed fashion”), eliminating Osama bin Laden and expanding drone strikes (although the “tawdry efforts to publicize them for political gain will forever diminish the achievement”).
In between Obama’s long list of failures and short list of successes, however, is a third category — what might be called successes that were really failures. I would summarize them as follows:
His successful personal effort to insult the head of state and prime minister of America’s closest ally (as well as removing the bust of its wartime prime minister from the Oval Office); his successful personal effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel; his successful effort to ostracize Honduras for enforcing its constitution against a Hugo Chavez wannabe; his successful effort to become the first U.S. president to chair a UN meeting; his successful effort to ignore the efforts of Iranian citizens protesting the stolen 2009 presidential election and then ignore seriatim deadlines for Iran to accept his outstretched hand; his successful efforts to oppose Congressional attempts to strengthen Iran sanctions, while touting each round of non-crippling sanctions as the “toughest ever”; his successful effort to ward off pressure to visit Israel from liberal Israeli columnists, Jewish Democrats in Congress, and friendly rabbis; his successful effort to jettison a U.S. ally in Egypt and reportedly invite the new Pharaoh to the U.S.; his successful effort to set a Guinness Record for golf games by a wartime commander-in-chief; his successful effort to delay executing an already-negotiated free trade agreement with the closest U.S. ally in Latin America; his successful effort to improve relations with Mexico by suing Arizona on its behalf; his successful effort to build a knee-slapping relationship with Dmitri Medvedev to deliver a deferred flexibility message to Vladimir; and his winning a Nobel Peace Prize for not being Bush.
With respect to Iran and Syria, he currently assures allies and adversaries that all options are on the table, but has not convinced them they will ever actually be used. He sets “red lines” that effectively signal that no action will be taken: as long as we do not find out Iran has assembled a nuclear weapon, it can keep the centrifuges whirring, finish its illegal underground facility, and maintain its uninspected installations; as long as Syria does not use chemical weapons, it can keep killing its citizens by conventional means. All this does not even rise to the level of leading from behind.