The 2012 election will hinge on the economy, not on U.S. foreign policy, unless there is a major overseas crisis — an Israeli attack on Iran, an Iranian detonation of a nuclear weapon, a Middle East war, a North Korean attack, or something of that sort. That said, there is much to lament in the current administration’s foreign policy. But Mitt Romney should be careful in critiquing the status quo, given that it is full of paradoxes and contradictions.
The war on terror? Forget the absurd euphemisms like “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters,” the hypocrisy of railing against waterboarding three known terrorists while blowing up over 2,000 suspected terrorists (and anyone near them), and the half-hearted efforts of both using and trying to close Guantanamo and envisioning Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court. What Obama said he wanted to do and what he actually did do are quite different things. In truth, he embraced or expanded almost all the Bush-Cheney protocols that he demagogued against as a state legislator, a senator, and a presidential candidate. That he gave George W. Bush absolutely no credit for surging in and saving Iraq, or setting up the procedures for operations like those that killed bin Laden, is again a matter of ingratitude, not foreign policy, given that the war on terror is now a successful eleven-year continuum.
But there is one caveat. Words ultimately have consequences. The constant naïveté from the administration — the characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood as largely “secular,” the mythography of the Cairo speech, the taboo against using the phrase “radical Islam” — may have been designed to offer a politically correct mask for Obama’s continuance of the Bush-Cheney protocols, but it may also have had the effect of suggesting to our enemies that the U.S. is ambiguous about radical Islam and does not necessarily connect it with anti-American terrorism.
In general, given American exhaustion over Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with the economic crisis, the Obama administration correctly gauged the public desire for no more interventions, but it finessed that isolationist impulse into its own sense of a multipolar world where America was merely one among many nations.
Aside from the war on terror, then, what are the ten legitimate areas of criticism?
1. Securitygate. The Obama administration has leaked the most intimate secrets about U.S. covert operations — the cyber war against Iran, the Predator-drone assassination program, the Yemeni double agent, the bin Laden raid — in a transparent attempt to chest-thump over the once covert anti-terrorism efforts. This was a shameful thing, and we have not yet felt the full consequences of this disaster.
2. The administration initially did not care much about the Arab Spring, but was dragged into it by the looming fall of Hosni Mubarak. Leading from behind in Libya was incoherent, and what followed Qaddafi was more incoherent. Not going into Syria was wise, even if the reasons for not going in were again muddled. Obama remains ashamed of Iraq and ostracizes it (even as it so far remains the most stable of the new Arab consensual governments), and he makes no distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular democratic movements. In other words, rather than encouraging those who thought the Arab Spring might offer a pluralistic society, Obama stood back as Islamists, Khomeini-style, took control, and he then ex post facto labeled them democrats, even though, as in the case of Hamas and the Iranian theocrats, they favor one free election, just one time.
3. Russian reset is mostly a failure. Embarrassing the Czechs and the Poles over missile defense got us little. Putin has been no help with Iran. An occasional peep about Russian human rights was unceremoniously swatted down. Putin now assumes Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics fall under his own Russian Monroe Doctrine. A new loose axis of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea threatens to create a nuclear buffer to U.S. interests.