Three years into his presidency, what grades has Barack Obama earned managing foreign policy hotspots in 2011? Here is an end of year report card.
NATIONAL & HOMELAND SECURITY
No surprise here. With an admirably surgical counter-terrorism record and masterful resolve against global terrorist targets, the Commander-in-Chief deserves high marks for breaking the back of Al Qaeda. Timely fulfillment of his pledge to withdraw from Iraq by Christmas warrants kudos despite sniping from Republican field marshals addicted to Camp Victory. Extra credit goes for knocking off Yemeni Al Qaeda leader Awlaki, and stealing thunder away from GOP critics panting to label Obama weak on defense. Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano has expertly managed her portfolio and kept the U.S. safe from terror attacks.
MIDDLE EAST/MUSLIM WORLD
Arab Spring/Islamist Winter: C
One year into Arab revolts, the President's cherished goal of rebuilding U.S. ties to the Muslim world -- by his own admission a principal foreign policy goal -- barely earns a respectable grade despite all the self-adulating Libya hoopla. The surprising Arab revolts of 2011 admittedly placed the U.S. between a rock and a hard place (favored dictators vs. democratic values). But Obama's personal standing throughout the Arab world has regrettably plummeted in the wake of unfulfilled expectations courtesy of an overzealous/underfunded agenda (too much money wasted in Pakistan losing more hearts and minds there). Belated nods to Arab democratic revolts did not help, either, and the U.S. is having a hard time influencing a run amok Egyptian military which is dependent on U.S. largess. The rise of Islamist political parties throughout the region portends a hard foreign policy slog in 2012. The "below-radar" foray into Libya robbed the White House of willpower to innovatively tackle the Syrian uprising, outsourcing U.S. policy to Turkey. What happens in Syria has far more consequences to U.S. Mideast interests than does Libya.
Despite Obama's squishy targeted withdrawal date of July 2012, the Petreaus-inspired "son of surge" in Afghanistan barely yielded its promised results. Between an unreliable alliance with Afghanistan's mercurial Hamid Karzai and ever shifting goals, the U.S. has may have set an exit date, but has no exit strategy in place to prevent Afghanistan from descending into another safe haven for the Taliban and the remnants of Bin Laden's AfPak terror network. Without Pakistani cooperation, Afghanistan isn't going to go well for Obama in 2012 (see below).
Israeli-Palestinian "Rest in Peace" Process: F
From the moment the White House haplessly dove headlong into the short end of the Middle East peace process its approach has been marred by missteps and mismanagement. For the first time since the 1978 Camp David Accords, Obama has accomplished the dubious feat of transforming the U.S. into the"dis"honest broker no longer trusted by either side. Israelis and Palestinians have not been this far apart in two decades and the White House cannot avoid part of the blame. Saddled between a stubborn Israeli government and a moribund Palestinian leadership, Obama's team has abandoned the playing field - further undermining U.S. standing throughout the region. Memo to Obama: Your Nobel Peace Prize is collecting dust.
Obama has done far more for Israel's strategic security than given credit for despite his barely concealed and self-defeating contempt for Israel's leadership. To prevent Israel from taking regional matters into its own hands the President needs to rev up Air Force 1 and finally make a long overdue journey to Jerusalem to speak directly to the Israeli people why he has their best interests in mind.
Iran: Incomplete/With Minor in Economic Sanctions: A
The Atomic Ayatollahs contemptuously rejected Obama's overextended open arm. Semi-multilateral imaginative U.S. lead sanctions have nevertheless failed to deter the Supreme Leader from salivating how close he is getting Iran to a nuclear bomb, per the IAEA's latest report. Mixed messages emanating from Obama Administration senior officials -- notably Leon Panetta -- cast serious doubt if "all options are on the table." Whether accelerated U.S. counterespionage efforts supplanting sanctions against Iran's nuclear programs can prevent a military showdown will be the most important foreign policy test for Obama in 2012.
Pakistan: Pass/Fail: Audit
As his generals appear to be heading already, Obama might as well throw in the towel on Pakistan and just keep the power on long enough to prevent a total freeze in ties. The Pakistani military and its two-faced ISI fail every lie detector test. The U.S. has tried every trick in the book to maintain a sense of diplomatic decorum. Managing relations is virtually a hopeless waste of energy, but the place is enough of a tinder box to compel Washington to keep a vigliant eye on its unsafe nukes and Islamists who add new meaning to the word "extremist!" "Mess management" is the best anyone can hope for in 2012.
Europe & the EuroCrisis: B-
"Eurospectics" abound in Washington these days. The once mighty and all important trans-Atlantic alliance between the U.S. and Europe has fallen victim to "lead from behind" leadership. Bickering European allies resent gratuitous economic advice from a White House that is treating Europe like a "lost continent."
Russia Reset: B+
Until Vladimir Putin started accusing Hillary Clinton of provoking protests against his "Kremlintocracy" the White House had successfully reset relations with Russia on a variety of key fronts, including reducing tensions with NATO, new strategic arms limitations initiatives and global counterterrorism. But with Putin destined to win the Russian presidency, that "reset" may require yet another "reboot."
China's Muscle Flexing & Asia: B+
The Obama team has imaginatively pivoted in the past few months to unveil a new and strategically sound Asia policy to regain support in a region essential to U.S. economic and national security interests. A more robust challenge to Chinese military designs in the Pacific and expanding trade with the region represent a "win/win" for the U.S. and its Southeast Asian partners. The White House has embraced a more sure-footed China strategy neutralizing a Congressional China policy power grab over trade and currency manipulation -- for the time being. Caveat Emptor: Touting an Asian pivot which may come at the expense of safeguarding U.S. strategic interests in Europe and the Middle East could affect overall grade point average.
North Korea: A-
OK, Pyongyang still has nukes, errant missiles, and still threatens South Korea. But sophisticated, real time diplomacy with China, Japan, and South Korea kept North Korean military provocations from deteriorating into a full-fledged peninsula conflict. Perhaps the "Great Successor" will turn out not to be chip off the old block, but the White House is taking no chances and is burning the diplomatic midnight oil.
Our peripatetic Secretary of State remains the Obama Administration's global superstar as an emissary extraordinaire despite somewhat tardy focus on Syria's revolt and the unfulfilled diplomacy of her own designated Middle East and AfPak policy czars. Mrs. Clinton has imaginatively pursued a carefully constructed policy of global "soft diplomacy" that has yielded respect and admiration from her peers and grudging admiration from America's detractors. Her word remains trusted and respected wherever she goes.
Also, Vice President Biden's quiet, effective oversight of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq earns high marks despite Iraq's future sectarian machinations. Americans incurred few casualties during the complicated drawdown, and Biden remains a respected voice among Iraq's warring parties.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg