After some 15 months, we may legitimately monitor the much-heralded reset-button foreign policy, putting aside soaring rhetoric, photo-ops, and summits to simply ask: Have things improved?
In other words, are Palestinians and Israelis, and the region at large, closer to peace or further from it? And is there a greater or lesser chance for another war involving Hezbollah and Hamas? Is Syria more or less likely to fuel regional tension? Is Lebanon more likely to erupt in sectarian violence or stay tranquil? Is Iran closer or more distant to getting the bomb, and is its behavior more conciliatory or provocative? Has Turkey warmed to the U.S., or is it continuing its Islamic distancing? Is Israel more or less secure?
Is Venezuela backing away from its dictatorship at home and regional bullying or continuing both as never before? Will there be another Falklands incident, or is that less likely?
Are such European states as Britain, France, and Germany more relieved or more worried about the trans-Atlantic relationship? Is the Anglo-American special relationship more or less special? Are Eastern European countries and the former republics of the Soviet Union breathing easier, or are they far more tense about the role and conduct of Russia?
Is India moving ahead with even greater ties with the U.S., or are they wary of the new administration? And has China made greater or fewer inroads in appealing to Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan to triangulate from the United States?
Did all the new euphemisms, the serial promises to close down Guantanamo, the envisioned civilian trial of KSM, the Middle East interviews, the Cairo-like speechmaking, and general reach-out to the Muslim world result in 2009 in fewer efforts on the part of Islamic extremists to kill Americans here at home, relative to the annual average since 2001, or more?
Has the United States gained greater good will with our immediate northern and southern neighbors, and is the Clinton diplomatic team more or less likely to commit diplomatic gaffes than was the team of Secretary of State Rice?
And are Chinese, Russian, and Middle East leaders more or less likely now, than in the past, to test an American president? Fifteen months is still early, but answers to these questions are becoming clearer. Not all of these issues involve the United States, but the Obama administration in one manner or another has addressed all of them — usually on the premise that America’s prior eight years were the problem and the next four are the solution. Such exultation only makes the contrast more stark.