Dr. Steve A. Leibo directs the Sage Program in International & Globalization Studies
It may be not quite be a year but I think we’re justified in making at least a preliminary evaluation of President Obama’s Foreign policy. It does seem reasonable given that he has just made one of the most important short term decisions of his presidency; one that will deeply impact him and America in the immediate future.
Ok, maybe it’s not the decision that will have the longest impact on the American people. No, we will have to cede that legacy to his health care & green energy efforts. And the most obvious conclusion we can draw, is that he gets an “A” for consistency.
I mean it’s certainly obvious he has spent a great deal of time thinking through his options on dealing with Afghanistan. But it’s hard not to recognize as well that is so many ways, the eventual outcome of the president’s deliberations was in large measure pre-ordained.
After all, President Obama, more than most presidents seems to have remained much closer to his initial campaign promises. He has not, dramatically veered away from his core promises as George W. Bush did on climate change or Bill Clinton on the question of the federal budget deficit versus future investments. No here is a president who campaigned to commit his presidency to a series of promises from health care delivery reform to confronting the challenge of dangerous man made climate change. And remains committed to this day.
In foreign policy, Obama promised a more conciliatory foreign policy. Ironically a version of the “humble” foreign policy George W. campaigned on and promptly forgot once in office. But Obama has acted on that promise. With both Iran and North Korea, Obama he has been willing to offer more direct talks. He’s even started a tentative effort to dialogue with the leaders of Myanmar’s nasty junta, while trying to lower the tensions with the Islamic world.
Clearly an approach that has paralleled his campaign promises. And given that consistency can there be anyone who could possibly have imagined Obama would have chosen a different course in Afghanistan than the one he outlined Tuesday night.
I mean let’s be realistic. That choice, that strategy was after all the price of his admission to the presidential sweepstakes as then Senator Obama successfully out-campaigned Hilary Clinton by somewhat unfairly linking her to the vote to conquer Iraq which so obviously undermined Clinton with the activist anti-war wing of the Democratic Party.
But running as a pacifist does not win one the presidency of the Untied States, no, he also outmaneuvered the Republicans by undermine their post Nine Eleven war time leadership by attacking them, not for going to war but distracting themselves from the real war in Afghanistan with their reckless adventure in Iraq—that war he so often calls a war of choice.
No, despite the best hopes of some of his followers Obama campaigned not as an anti-war leader but as one who wanted to focus on the real war of necessity, the struggle in Afghanistan which of course made sense given that the horrors of nine eleven really had originated in Afghanistan.
Now, of course, President Obama has been forced by the logic of his own election to come down on the side making a real try in Afghanistan. After all Afghanistan’s former leaders once turned their nation into a haven for international terrorism. And they are capable of doing so again if not stymied. To be sure maintaining the stability of Afghanistan may not be all that important to America but a failure there will make Pakistan much more vulnerable and a stable Pakistan absolutely is in America’s best interests.
But Obama knows as well that his own democratic constituency is not going to follow him long just because he’s working so hard on health care. If you have doubts about that just conjure up the ghost of L.B.J.
Thus the very clear exit strategy he also enunciated Tuesday evening which is good politics both domestically and internationally. Especially so given how quickly so many Democrats could turn forcibly against his expanding Afghanistan commitment and how easily our very presence can arouse opposition among the very proud Afghans whether they like the Taliban or not.