July 26, 2012


Love Classic Republican Foreign Policy? Vote For Obama (Jonathan Rauch, July 25, 2012, New Republic)

Greatness comes from winning cosmic conflicts like World War II and the Cold War, and at present we are fortunate not to be engaged in any and therefore not to need a great leader. (Remember, in this connection, the wisdom of Calvin Coolidge: "It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.") In ordinarily messy, disorganized times like these, success in foreign policy means navigating treacherous currents safely, avoiding major mistakes, leaving the country stronger than you found it, and hopefully nudging the world forward a little. By that measure, Obama has done well.

An exception was his naïvely conceived and clumsily executed run at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His rookie flailing set back the peace process (such as it was) and made him look like a doormat. But he learned from his mistakes. And consider the positive side of the ledger.

Ending two wars. He has closed out the war in Iraq on acceptable terms. He is on course to do the same thing in Afghanistan. Ending two wars is a big deal.

Stabilizing relations with Russia. Russia-U.S. relations were in a tailspin when Obama entered office. Thanks to the Russia "reset," they are stable today. Russia could certainly be more cooperative on Iran and Syria, but it is quietly helping us in Afghanistan (where it could instead be a major irritant) and generally not putting bite behind its bark.

Stabilizing relations with China. The administration built enough capital with Beijing to smuggle a prominent dissident out of the country with barely a diplomatic ripple--an extraordinary thing, if you think about it. Hardly less extraordinary is that the administration's "Asia pivot," which is really a move to counterbalance China, is also clicking smoothly into place.

Isolating Iran. Partly thanks to Obama's show of willingness to negotiate, Europe is joining with the U.S. in boycotting Iranian oil, a remarkable show of solidarity behind exceptionally tough sanctions. Sanctions may yet fail, but Obama's patient approach has weakened Iran's position and built a consensus that will make further steps more effective. Oh, and Israel hasn't bombed Iran and Hezbollah hasn't bombed Israel.

Strengthening America's brand. In Europe and most of the rest of the world (Muslim countries being important exceptions), the United States is significantly more favorably regarded than when he took office. That is bankable soft power.

Prosecuting the war on terror. Obama has been so successful at continuing and refining the most effective elements of Bush's counterterrorism policy, while taming its provocative excesses, that Republicans don't even want to raise the issue. Pinch me.

There are two big problems with this analysis: (1) the conflict with Islamicism is nearly identical ideologically to that against Nazism and Communism; and (2) President Eisenhower was perfectly happy to let people be oppressed by Communist regimes so long as we could keep out of the Cold War.  

Mr. Obama is more like Truman or George H. W. Bush, adeptly handling the victory phase of a war won by his immediate predecessor.  

Posted by at July 26, 2012 6:20 PM

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