President Obama promised a different foreign policy than his predecessor. Obama said the U.S. would walk softer and seek to rebuild alliances and trust internationally. He rejected the unilateral, go it alone, cowboy policy of the Bush/Cheney crowd. He saw the damage this policy had caused and how it had hurt our prestige in the world. For all the criticism Obama takes on domestic policy, he has followed through on this campaign promise, and has achieved a significant number of successes.
The latest success is the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya. While it is proper to raise questions about why get involved militarily in Libya and not in Bahrain or Yemen or Syria, it is also true Obama's strategy worked. He refused to have the U.S. take the lead. He demanded NATO play the central role in any action against Gaddafi. Not only did NATO take over command and control, but numerous Arab nations, especially Qatar and the U.A.E., also participated. The U.S. did not put any boots on the ground. England and France sent some special forces into Libya, but the United States refrained. The United States led other nations to recognize the transitional government and, along with Italy, France and England, agreed to unfreeze Libyan assets and make them available to the new government. Libya is in a position to restore order and revive its oil industry and begin to transition to a democratic state. It will not be easy, and nothing is guaranteed, since Libya is a tribal nation and there will be jealousies and disputes. Democracy is a messy business. There is also the possibility of Islamic forces trying to hijack the process. However, the Arab world watched as the U.S. encouraged its allies to force Gaddafi out. The standard radical Islamist line used by al Qaeda, the Taliban and others, accusing the West of abusing Muslims and supporting dictators who are friendly to the West, can no longer be used for propaganda. The Libyan people know what the U.S. role has been and they know without it they would not be free.
Obama's successes don't stop with Libya. His approach to Syria is also paying dividends. Despite criticism he waited too long to condemn Assad and call for his ouster, Obama waited until voices in the Arab world and until Muslim countries were also willing to condemn Assad. Syria's propaganda line has been that the unrest in the country has been caused by the U.S. and Israel. By waiting, Obama lined up numerous Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and the Arab League, to call for the violence in Syria to stop. Turkey has led the call for reform and publically criticized Assad. Secretary of State Clinton has gotten European nations to agree to sanctions against Syria including refusing to buy Syrian oil. Even Iran, and its surrogate Hezbollah, are starting to hedge their bets in case Assad falls. If he does, Iran loses its chief provocateur in the region and Hezbollah would lose a sanctuary that would be a great victory for Obama and Israel. While Russia continues to oppose sanctions, Obama has gotten China to soften its opposition that has been crucial.
Obama's success cannot be chronicled without talking about the killing of Bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda through drone strikes in Pakistan. Just recently, al Qaeda’s number two, and its operational leader, was killed in Pakistan. Obama's policy toward al Qaeda has led many analysts to downgrade its ability to be an operational force against this country.
In a change in policy, the United States no longer automatically provides military aid and foreign aid to Pakistan. A new series of conditions have been put on the delivery of such aid. Obama refused to turn a blind eye to the treacherous double game Pakistan has been playing. They take our money while at the same time providing aid and comfort to Bin Laden and the Taliban. Pakistan is protecting the Haquani network and Pakistan's intelligence service has been cut out of the loop when it comes to American actions in Pakistan, due to the belief they are tipping off targets of value and hurting our campaign against both the terrorists and the Taliban. This is a complete about face from the Bush administration, which spent almost $8 billion in Pakistan with nothing to show for it.
Perhaps the biggest successes of Obama foreign policy involve Iran and North Korea. The United States has led a campaign to get the European Union, Russia and China to agree to tougher economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop their ongoing nuclear weapons program. Recently, Germany sanctioned a bank accused of laundering Iranian money. Technology sales are prohibited to Iran. Iran's economy is being damaged which is making its population restless and limiting the government's ability to mitigate the impact on everyday Iranian's lives. Bush and Cheney openly talked about going to war with Iran. Obama has cobbled together an alliance which stands the best chance of changing Iran's policy about nuclear proliferation. Since all experts agree a military strike would fail, Obama has led and come up with a viable alternative policy.
Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jung Il indicated publically a wish to restart the 6 party talks aimed at reducing or ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He had been adamantly opposed to such talks just a few months ago and thought he could pressure Obama into caving. Instead, the United States has stepped up sanctions, seized ships heading for North Korea that contained banned technology, engage in joint military exercises with South Korea and put pressure on China to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table. Obama let it be known, no new talks will occur until North Korea makes some concessions concerning its nuclear program. It seems to be working.
All is not sunlight and roses for Obama on foreign policy. His Afghanistan policy is a disaster with no possible victory in sight. We are disengaging with Iraq, but might stay if asked which would be a terrible decision. We don't know yet what will happen in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab spring nations.
It should also be noted regressive Republicans have opposed Obama on almost every foreign policy front. They criticized him for condemning former allies, like Mubarak in Egypt, too quickly and throwing them under the bus. They suggest we should prop up dictators even when their own people want them gone. Our national interests are more important than someone else's freedom for these freedom-loving Republicans. They tried to stop his foray into Libya and would have sat back and watched Gaddafi crush the rebellion. They had faint praise for killing Bin Laden and they accuse Obama of not acting fast enough in Syria. What is clear is in the current field of Republican pretenders to the throne, they all universally would continue the Bush policy of unilateral action, continued criticism of the United States and NATO, and a confrontational diplomatic mission, all of which was a disaster for 8 years and left the United States isolated and despised across the globe. In less than three years, Obama has been able to reverse much of the damage. Do we really want to go back to the diplomatic version of the Texas two-step?
Unfortunately, the election of 2012 will not be decided on issues of foreign policy. If it were, Obama would win in a landslide.