Obama’s Foreign Policy: Perspective on a Work in Progress

The president’s speech at West Point outlining his foreign policy last Wednesday was  lambasted by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post as “pure Obama — cynical, strewn with straw men and vague to the point of meaninglessness.”  Rubin calls her Post column Right Turn, and is one of many on the right who love to criticize Obama, but who seldom offer useful ideas themselves, other than to be more decisive and act tougher.

2010-2011 Middle East and North Africa protest...

2010-2011 Middle East and North Africa protests-new (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obama’s foreign policy is hard to pin down because there are crises flaring up all over and dealing with each context requires a somewhat different approach, complicated by the numerous considerations intertwined in our globalized world.

Two great interlocking trends – social media and globalization – have vastly complicated the international landscape over the past 20 years.    Those trends along with the “war on terror,” and  the so-called Arab spring (which now seems more like Pandora’s box) make for huge difficulties when it comes to shaping a coherent foreign policy.   Relatively simple solutions seemed possible when individual incidents did not have such wide, instant ramifications.

Not that the solutions necessarily worked, Vietnam being an outstanding example of a bad idea put into practice.  But there were fewer variables to consider in making them.  Even a decade ago who would have thought that an economic melt down in little Greece could  threaten the entire world economy?   Or that social media could play a major role in creating revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East?

Certainly there are aspects of the Obama foreign policy that are open to criticism (the immediate example being the decision to exchange five Taliban combatants (or terrorists) for an American soldier held hostage in Afghanistan after he appeared to have deserted), but the criticism must reflect a sense of current complexity to be taken seriously.   I believe Fareed Zakaria has this sense as evidenced in his columns in Time and the Washington Post and his Sunday morning show on CNN:  Fareed Zakaria GPS….  the best news show on TV in my opinion.

Zakaria titled a column in last Thursday‘s Post, Obama’s Leadership is Right for Today.  Not exactly right, of course, but whose leadership ever is?   For example, I think Obama’s handling of the Syrian situation was mistaken and has helped prompt the present horror show, a topic I will get to some day in a post.   But when Obama’s foreign policy is constantly hammered by critics on the right for its weakness and ineptitude, keep in mind that presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower had similar things said about them.

Zakaria points that out in his editorial which I recommend as a way to put our globalized bee hive in perspective.

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