The election of Barack Obama, we were told, would bring new respect and friendship for America in the world.
No longer would we be led by a Texas cowboy ignorant of and indifferent to world opinion. Instead, we would have a visionary leader sympathetic to the governments and peoples of the world.
But Obama’s best moments in foreign policy have been when he has followed the lead of his predecessors. For instance, in his twice-postponed trip to Australia this week, he will reportedly announce that a U.S. Navy base will be opened there.
That will cement ties already strengthened by George W. Bush and previous presidents to the one nation in the world that has fought alongside the United States in every war in the last century.
But domestic politics can trump foreign policy for Obama: He cancelled previous Australian trips to lobby the House to pass Obamacare and to respond to the Gulf oil spill.
Closer to home, crassly political ploys have angered the governments and people of our two geographical neighbors, Mexico and Canada.
Only domestic politics can explain two of the Obama administration’s most controversial moves: exporting illegal guns to Mexico and balking at allowing an oil pipeline from Canada.
The export of guns to Mexico was the whole point of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious.
Why ever would our government do such a thing? Conservative commentators have argued that the administration wanted to use evidence of deaths caused by guns illegally exported from the U.S. to spur demands for gun-control laws here.
Democratic leaders have done that before. In 2009, Obama claimed that “more than 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States.” That claim was echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sens. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein.
But the statistic was bogus, as Factcheck.org concluded. The 90 percent refers only to guns Mexican authorities submitted to the U.S. for tracing. The actual percentage of U.S. guns used in Mexican drug wars is unknown but is clearly far lower.
We don’t know for sure why ATF and the Justice Department embarked on Fast and Furious. Officials are keeping mum. But no one has come up with a more plausible explanation than the charge that it was intended to make a case for gun control at home.
In any case, Mexican citizens and government officials are understandably incensed. But maybe not as incensed as Canadian citizens and government officials are over the Obama administration’s decision to punt until after the 2012 election the decision on whether to allow the Canadian firm TransCanada to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Oklahoma and Texas.