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One Year On, Has Obama Kept His Foreign Policy Promises?

To those who thought Obama would end all war, wipe out global poverty, save the environment, and eradicate terrorism in one fell swoop, they will be sadly disappointed by this earthling-like leader of the free world’s slacker performance.

But Obama’s foreign policy has not been half bad. I would describe his overarching philosophy on world affairs as one of pragmatic realism, not lofty idealism (as his detractors would have you). He has stuck to his campaign script on a number of fronts, namely his desire to take the war to Pakistan and step up Predator strikes against al-Qaeda targets. That is not to say I agree with this tactic, but you cannot fault him for not warning us first (in fact, he was pilloried by Republicans, who now seem to support such hawkish policies). He has done wonders to restore the American brand in the Arab world (though he has a long way to go; eight years of Bush will require more than just one speech). No he has not shut down Gitmo but give him time.

He has stood up (somewhat) to Israel, though his criticism of the Goldstone report seemed like political pandering. He has put off the boneheaded idea of building a missile shield in Europe. He has reached out to Iran, and sensibly stayed on the sidelines when protests there erupted. He has sought a dialogue with Sudan, something he eluded to when he said we do not punish dictators by not talking to them (bravo!). He has begun the process of pulling out of Iraq, while stampeding blindly into Afghanistan. Whatever you might think of the Afghan “surge,” again, this was something Obama mentioned more than once he would do (even his waffling is forgivable; I want a Commander in Chief who weighs his decisions carefully, even if it makes the military honchos a tad upset). Finally he has gutted the defense bill of several pet projects and overpriced fighters designed to fight the Soviets, not al-Qaeda.

To be sure, Obama has had some stumbles. He has gotten boxed in on the Middle East peace process. It’s still early, and let’s hope the settlement issue is like the public option (something he demands up front, then backs away from, then regains the upper hand on after the dust settles). He has failed to define why Afghanistan is so critical to U.S. security concerns, when the next attack against Americans will likely come from sleeper cells in the West, not from some guy in a cave. He has sought a strategy in Pakistan that focuses on killing the enemy, not winning local hearts and minds (the former makes the latter impossible, actually). Finally, (and this is nitpicking), he has stuffed our embassies with political donors. That is a tradition with a long history in Washington and probably of small consequence, but let’s hope when I stumble into millions and donate to him down the road, they don’t make me ambassador to China (actually, his ambassador pick to China was pretty sound).

Obama promised to restore frayed alliances and keep America strong. I think he has been impressive on this front. His choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, which I mocked him for at the time, seems like a pretty good one (it’s Biden I worry about). His envoys — George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke — are the best in the business. And high marks for keeping Robert Gates on as defense secretary. Overall, I’m optimistic. When I travel, the world shares this optimism about Obama. I still am excited to see his head shot on screen savers in the Middle East (I have yet to see any nasty anti-Obama graffiti). His swagger on foreign relations to date has been admirable. Of course, at this time in Bush’s first term, I might have said the same thing.


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