In view of the incoming presidential election, it is time that we graded foreign policy of the Obama administration. At this stage, American voters are preoccupied with domestic economy. However, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 can wake them up. Too many people in the United States and abroad were infatuated with Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 election. However, his job performance disappoints American citizens. In the economy, only 17% of them give credit (“So who thinks Obama is helping the economy”; Washington Post; September 8, 2011). In foreign policy, his achievements are barren. Former Ambassador to UN John Bolton comments Obama’s foreign policy critically in his recent article (“The Innocents Abroad: Obama's Foreign Policy Is Characterized”; National Review; September 19, 2011). His article appears in a critical moment to think of 9/11 legacy and the forthcoming presidential election. Let me review this.
In this article, Bolton criticizes President Obama’s innocence and lack of interest in foreign policy, which helps further growth of threats to the United States and its allies. According to Bolton, Obama is apologetic to America’s hegemonic role as the provider of global public goods, and he says “Like Obama's presidency generally, his national-security flaws combine ideology, naïveté, weakness, lack of leadership, intellectual laziness, and a near-religious faith in negotiation for its own sake.” Furthermore, Bolton points out that Barack Obama is devoted to restructure domestic economy and society so much that he shows compelling interest in foreign policy only when he finds urgent necessity to do so as in the case of the surge in Afghanistan and the attack to Osama bin Laden. I would like to mention that Obama’s early day speeches show those problems, though the media praised the change from “Bush’s unilateralism” to “modest multilateral cooperation”. I have to stress that America cannot enjoy its own economic prosperity and domestic stability without getting involved with removing security threats around the world. America itself is a recipient of global public goods provided by a liberal world order of Pax Americana.
Quite interestingly, I would like to call an attention that John Bolton mentions some correlation between Obama’s viewpoint on domestic and foreign policy of America. Just as Obama is keen on changing the American society, as seen in his social security reform, he envisions a post-American world. Bolton says that Obama is no similar to any presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, because he does not believe in America’s special role in the world. Considering such lack of confidence in America itself, I wonder why the media was so infatuated with Obama to depict him a Black Kennedy during 2008 election. John Kennedy was more assertive to American leadership in the world, while Obama is so apologetic of it that Nile Gardiner, a former policy staff to Lady Margaret Thatcher, argues Obama stop such behavior (“Barack Obama should stop apologising for America”; Daily Telegraph; 2 June, 2009).
Now, let me talk of specific threats and issues to assess the impact of Obama’s foreign policy. Obama has launched an ambitious initiative toward a world without nuclear weapons. The first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last year has drawn dramatic attention by the media. However, Bolton criticizes that Obama’s obsession with negotiation has not stopped nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. This September, Iran has built new centrifuge facilities to obtain highly enriched uranium, which raises critical concerns among nonproliferation experts (“Iran's Nuclear Experiments Raise Alarm at U.N. Agency”; Wall Street Journal; September 3, 2011). North Korea also makes progress to make warheads small enough for their ballistic missiles, while Obama just waits for diplomatic negotiations. Both rogue states just gained time for their nuclear projects.
Obama’s appeasement to China and Russia is questionable, because this is deeply associated with present day arguments on “relative decline” of the United States. Obama decided to withdraw missile defense system from Poland and Czech. Also, he withheld the sales of F16 fighters to Taiwan. As a result, Russia and China assume their dominant positions in the former Soviet Union and East Asia respectively. Particularly, South and East China Seas are areas of grave concerns in view of natural resource disputes, and the growth of Chinese naval power and access denial capability.
Regarding Libya, Bolton asserts that Obama’s cause of “responsibilities to protect citizens”, instead of “regime change”, is utterly wrong. NATO did not oust Muammar Khadafy swiftly enough, and there is no guarantee whether the new regime will be a pro-Western stable democracy or not. The controversial strategy of “lead from behind” makes America less safe as Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns. He says, “But if it fails, and Libya devolves into anarchy or despotism, this operation will likely be remembered as a tactical triumph that didn't translate into strategic success. The outcome still hangs in the balance” (Did Libya Vindicate 'Leading From Behind?'”; Wall Street Journal; September 1, 2011). Currently, Khadafy’s loyalists have fled into Niger, and Muammar Khadafy himself is not found yet. They can plot terrorist attacks out of Libya.
The Obama administration’s approaches to the Middle East need to be reviewed furthermore, as John Bolton is critically concerned that they are completely inconsistent and contradictory. Since the inauguration, Obama has been too afraid of “offending” public opinion in the Islam world, as shown in his speeches in Prague and Cairo. In the Arab Spring, there are some problems such as the rise of Islamism in Egypt, continual dictatorship in Syria, rampant Hezbollah in Lebanon. In addition, Turkey is departing from pro-Western secularism of Kemal Ataturk. The most fatal error that Bolton points out is Obama’s misjudgment to reduce troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after successful attack to Osama bin Laden in the War on Terror. While Obama belittles these threats, he denounces Israel for building houses in the suburb of Jerusalem. Considering the above points, Bolton wonders whether Obama understands real dangers in the Middle East.
I would argue that such loss of policy balance mentioned by Bolton will lead to further problems in East Asia. As in Libya, the “lead from behind” diplomacy does not work in this region. China and North Korea poses much more dreadful threats to their neighbors than Khadafy’s Libya. Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are far weaker than Britain and France. American involvement is utterly essential to regional security, even though it “offends” nationalists in China and North Korea. I strongly hope that Obama reconsider his speech at APEC Singapore summit, as he said “America welcomes a strong China”.
On defense expenditure, Obama made use of the debt ceiling debate for proposing drastic cuts. However, the Super Committee is no support of such proposal. Republicans and the Defense Department resist it as expected. Also, Democrats do not want to be seen weak on defense by agreeing to Obama’s defense spending cut. Though partisan gaps are not filled, the Super Committee’s conclusion in the November deadline can rollback pro defense arguments (“Hyper-Partisanship in Defense Budget Debate Playing in Pentagon’s Favor”; National Defense --- Blog; September 9, 2011).
The 10th anniversary 9/11 terrorist attack has passed, and America needs in depth debates on national security for 2012 election. John Bolton’s article has made an appearance on such a critical occasion, and its insightful criticism to the Obama administration’s foreign policy achievements is invaluable and extremely helpful.