Addressing the Democratic National Convention on September 6, President Obama proudly highlighted his foreign-policy achievements, boasting that “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat” and affirming that “our longest war” — the war in Afghanistan — would be over by 2014. Then he drew laughter by painting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as diplomatic lightweights: “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy.”
Talk about bad timing. Less than a week after the president’s speech, on the anniversary of 9/11, four American officials were killed in a terrorist attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the black radical-Islamist flag was hoisted above our embassy in Cairo. At first, the Obama administration claimed that the Libya killings had resulted from a “spontaneous” protest over a ridiculous anti-Islam video. On September 16, Ambassador Susan Rice, our chief envoy to the United Nations, flatly declared, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
But we did have such information, as early as September 12, according to Daily Beast correspondent Eli Lake: “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers.” Indeed, the very same day that Ambassador Rice claimed there was no evidence of a “preplanned” attack, Libyan president Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf said he had “no doubt that this was preplanned.”
By rejecting the terror link in so many public statements, the Obama administration was being either willfully deceptive or scandalously naïve. Either way, its response to the Benghazi massacre was deeply disturbing.
And yet, many people continue to argue that President Obama’s foreign policy has mostly been a success. Count me among the skeptics. While certain accomplishments are undeniable — such as the killing of Osama bin Laden — this administration has consistently (1) mishandled U.S. relations with both allies and adversaries, (2) let politics undermine military strategy and national security, and (3) neglected our own hemisphere. Let’s take each problem in turn.
Start with Israel. President Obama seems to believe that the best way for America to help resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is to browbeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into offering unilateral concessions. Not only has this approach failed to revive the peace process, it has damaged U.S.-Israeli relations and made America look like an unreliable ally.
Another nation that now finds us unreliable is Canada, our largest trading partner. Ottawa has a litany of grievances with the Obama administration, mostly related to trade, border disputes (in the Arctic), and energy. Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to the United States, believes that President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline “brought U.S.-Canadian relations to their lowest point in decades.”
Meanwhile, in Central Europe, the Poles and the Czechs are still smarting over the 2009 cancellation of longstanding missile-defense plans. Reporting from Krakow this past July, Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel wrote for NRO that “even the most pro-American Poles now question the seriousness with which the United States takes Poland as an ally.” Last year, when Prague announced that it was withdrawing from President Obama’s revamped missile-defense scheme, a prominent member of the Czech parliament voiced similar concerns: “The United States has been and will be our crucial strategic partner,” said Jan Vidím, “but the current administration doesn’t take the Czech Republic seriously.”
Plenty of other U.S. allies have their own complaints. For example, British officials are angry that the Obama administration has refused to endorse their nation’s sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which dates back to 1833. Mexican officials are upset that the administration let thousands of guns “walk” across the border and into the hands of violent drug cartels, all without informing the Calderón government. And Taiwanese officials are increasingly worried that, while the military threat from China grows, their own fleet of fighter jets will shrink to half its current size by 2020, because the Obama administration has declined to sell them new F-16s.