If you read or listen to "them", "they" will inform you President Obama's foreign policy decisions over the last five years have been marred by indecision, waffling, quibbling, and a lack of backbone. From regressive talk radio, (by the way how is Hannity doing these days?), to the corporate media, to the foreign policy elite, the President has suffered set back after setback and numerous embarrassing missteps. Some have even compared Obama to Chamberlin for his reverse pivot on attacking Syria. There is plenty to be disillusioned about with the president, but as I sit here, it hit me the analysis has not exactly been fair and balanced.
When Obama was elected in 2008, one of the most dramatic lines of demarcation between him and John McCain was over his promise to end the Iraq War and get us out of Afghanistan. He also pledged diplomacy would replace military force as the go-to response of the White House. He has us out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan next year. (none too soon, and it should have been sooner as the country is a dysfunctional, corrupt, basket case not worth another American life) Much of the isolationism we see in American today is a direct result of George Bush, and the P.N.A.C. (Project on a New American Century) crowd, lying and dissembling to get Americans to support the Iraq War, and their total incompetence when it came to Afghanistan. Pundits blame Obama for the resistance to any military action in Syria by the American people, but his hands are clean. Americans don't trust Washington, and didn't want any more wars because of the duel debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama's critics are correct when they point out how disorganized and disheveled his administration has been in reaction to the Arab Spring. The U.S. was late in supporting revolution in Tunis and Egypt and looked the other way while Saudi Arabia crushed dissent in Bahrain. Obama seems unwilling, or unable, to pressure Israel into stopping the construction of illegal settlements or starting new construction in East Jerusalem. While he showed some good diplomatic skills in leading from behind on Libya, neither Obama nor any European nation did the due diligence necessary to secure Libya's arms stores or make sure there was someone who could produce stable political reform. Whether we like it or not, the Egyptian people seem comfortable with a military dictatorship which protects them from the Muslim Brotherhood, and restores some calm stability to their nation, and Obama could not prop up Mubarak and couldn't save Morsi whether he wanted to or not.
We will ignore Benghazi because it was a security disaster and breakdown and not a diplomatic failure and while more heads could roll, the consulate's destruction, and the loss of life, is an embarrassment for the State Department and C.I.A., but not a failed diplomatic effort.
The President decided not to attack Syria after first indicating he would use force. For this he is accused of being wishy-washy, a coward, a defeatist and much worse. He decided to let Congress weigh in on the decision and for this he was pilloried and accused of weakening the imperial presidency. His White House was in tatters and America's enemies are licking their chops at the thought of going up against this weak-kneed, sissy-Nancy of a president.
In the last few weeks, Syria has released an inventory of its chemical weapons stores which the U.S. and United Nation's officials say is far more comprehensive than expected. The international agency charged with destroying the weapons reports Syria has not tried to prevent them from doing their work and having access to information. Inspectors go into Syria in the next few weeks and a new report suggests the weapons could be destroyed in a matter of six months. The United Nations Security Council has now passed a resolution acknowledging if Syria doesn't continue to cooperate and make progress, force can be used to compel compliance. Russia is now on the hook as Syria's protector and guarantor. By agreeing to pursue Russia's diplomatic entreaties, Obama shifts the onus onto them...makes it much easier to go back to Congress for a resolution to use force...forces Europe to step up against a recalcitrant Syria and even has Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu publically admitting the approach to Syria is progress. If the chemical weapons are reduced dramatically, or destroyed completely, a precipitous fall of the Assad government is nowhere near as frightening since the fear of the weapons falling into the wrong hands will be reduced. It is a fair criticism to say the U.S. should have done a better job of supporting the moderate elements of the rebels in Syria, but this is a 1,700-year-old civil war which we cannot end.
Then there is Iran...no one has been more consistent on Iran than the President. Over the last five years, he has built a diplomatic coalition which has economically isolated Iran. Inflation could be running as high as 100% per year and the Iranian currency has easily lost half of its value. Oil revenue is drying up and middle class Iranians feel the pain and voted for a new president who built his campaign around the promise to restart the relationship with the West and get the sanctions reduced. The president's critics have repeatedly pooh-poohed and made snarky comments about how sanctions will never work and military force is the only thing the Iranians understand. (these are the same voices which said force could impose democracy and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan and want force used in Syria) Now the president of Iran says he wants to talk. For the first time in over 30 years, high level meetings took place between the U.S. and Iran, meetings which continue in Geneva in the month ahead and which were characterized by the British foreign secretary as "productive".
There are still more questions than answers diplomatically. Are Iran and Syria just stalling for time? Will Iran use these talks to allow them to further develop a nuclear weapon? Is Russia willing to support the use of force in Syria? Will the U.N. need Russia's support to act? Can the governments in Libya and Egypt be stabilized? Can the Syrian civil war be prevented from engulfing Lebanon, Jordan and Israel? Can the U.S. pressure Israel to engage in serious peace talks with the Palestinians? However, without firing a shot, Obama could see the end of chemical weapons in Syria...a deal to gain more transparency and progress on nuclear disarmament talks with Iran...a more stable Egypt...talks between Israel and the Palestinians...and in Asia, a possible return of U.S. naval forces to the key base at Subic Bay in the Philippines part of a diplomatic shift towards the Pacific the president has been touting.
Even if it is all because of dumb luck, it isn't a bad record of possibilities and accomplishments and it is said I'd rather be lucky than good.