Commentary Magazine


How’s He Doing?

Barack Obama routinely says the Bush administration has left us more isolated internationally and that America’s image in the world must be repaired, even going so far as to suggest that our citizens are not proud to identify themselves as Americans when traveling overseas. Whether or not you think that is true, Obama so far has not demonstrated he would be very adept at improving matters.

We had the Colombia flap over his opposition to the free trade agreement. We saw the leaders of Mexico and Canada upset over his suggestion to rip up NAFTA. The Brits were concerned about Obama’s Iran remarks. And the latest flip-flop on Jerusalem generated not just upset here in the U.S., but anger and confusion abroad, as the New York Times reported:

That statement generated a storm of controversy in the Middle East, with one Kuwaiti daily calling it “a slap in the face” to Arabs. And over the last 24 hours, as Mr. Obama and his campaign have sought to explain his initial remarks, and suggested that an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve, they have been accused of backtracking, which has generated a new round of criticism, this one here at home among Jewish groups.

How could someone so well-meaning, allegedly so worldly and so expert in foreign policy manage to insult and upset so many foreign powers before he even gets to the Democratic convention? Well, Obama’s errors, whether they stem from domestic pandering(e.g. NAFTA and Colombia free trade) or inconsistency (e.g. Iran, Jerusalem), suggest that there is more to foreign policy than living overseas as a child. And has Obama bothered to talk to some of our allies in the region about his plan to immediately (or is it gradually now?) withdrawal U.S. troops from Iraq? I thought we were supposed to consult more with our allies.

No one likes the notion of “cowboy” foreign policy these days (although query what action in the Bush second term could be characterized as unilateral or undeferential to our allies). The only thing that may be worse is “bull in a china shop” foreign policy in an Obama administration.

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