Does Obama Actually Have A Foreign Policy?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Robert Guttman Director, Center on Politics and Foreign Relations (CPFR), Johns Hopkins University

Crisis manager. Realist. Idealist. Pragmatist. Internationalist. Practical politician.

At this early stage of the Obama presidency it is difficult to see a comprehensive foreign policy agenda. While Obama has been chiefly focused on health care reform and a dire economy with high unemployment the world has not stood still while we contemplate our domestic ills and how to solve them.

Starting with Afghanistan the Obama administration seems to be in a hiatus at the moment. After changing generals and calling Afghanistan an important place for the United States to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda now we are re-assessing our policy of sending more American troops to the growing conflict.

Is this a sign of weakness and caving into his liberal base who seem to have turned against the war or is it a serious sign of contemplating our next move in a very dangerous part of the world that is increasingly taking more American soldiers lives on a daily basis.

Why are we fighting in Afghanistan? Is it worth the human and financial costs? Is Obama afraid of a Vietnam-type stalemate? Right now America seems to be engaged in the conflict half-heartedly with no apparent direction forward. We owe it to the soldiers and all of us to explain why we are over there fighting and what are our exact objectives.

And, if we scale back and another terrorist plot is planned in Afghanistan and we are hit like in 9/11 will there be recriminations for the Obama administration that we didn't put everything we had to wipe out the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

The administration needs to come out front and center and explain our policy and objectives in Afghanistan. We have been fighting over there for nearly a decade and there has to be a good valid reason from the administration why we are continuing to send troops into harms way.

It is all well and good to pass a meaningless resolution at the United Nations saying how much we dislike nuclear weapons but that is not really a foreign policy.

The war in Iraq continues. What is the objective in Iraq? If it is to get out then why continue an endless war and why not pull out all American troops immediately. Or if there is some other goal then let the American people know exactly what that goal might be. Do we have a contingency plan for sending American troops back into Iraq? After all this time, money spent and lives lost what exactly are we getting for our efforts? Define what constitutes success for America in Iraq after all these years.

Iran continues to pursue its nuclear plans with little or no thought to the Americans and Europeans. We seem to have no visible policy other than discussing how tough economic sanctions will be if the Iranians don't follow what we ask.

They are going ahead with their plans while we sit through endless discussions that appear to be leading nowhere while they continue building nuclear facilities. Big talk from the Obama administration with little follow through seems to be the policy. If it is something different then it needs to be explained.

Every American president strives for real peace in the Middle East and all have come up short. It is wonderful to have good intentions but the rest of the world doesn't always share our good intentions. The administration has to have a back-up plan for negotiating in the Middle East. Alienating the Israelis might not be the best way to have started these negotiations.

George Mitchell is a very able diplomat and negotiator and we all wish him well but the administration needs to state more clearly its goals in the Middle East besides a general view of wanting peace. A few more specifics might get genuine peace talks going again.

Changing direction on the missile defense in Europe seems to have made sense. But, hopefully, it was not caving into the Russians in order to get them to help us in other parts of the globe. They may not be the most reliable of partners and we need to define our policy towards Russia.

What is our overall policy on terrorism now that the Obama administration is not using the term "war on terrorism"? The recent disclosures of three different terrorist plots across the United States is not particularly encouraging. Do we have a new policy to thwart home grown terrorism? Do we have a new policy against Al Qaeda?

Have relations with North Korea gotten any better since former President Bill Clinton's successful trip bringing back the American reporters?

The Obama administration needs to spell out its foreign policy goals. At this point they seem to be all over the board with no central theme.

We need to know that the foreign policy of the United States is based on more than the presidents' celebrity status. While I approved of Chicago getting the 2012 Olympics the president's star power certainly did not sway the IOC in Copenhagen.

Obama needs a coherent and comprehensive foreign policy that he can explain clearly to us and to the world. And, it might be good to have a plan B and C if plan A does not work.

After all, as the president is discovering quite a few foreign leaders see the world quite differently than we do and talking rational, calmly and intellectually often does not move them to change their views.

We hope to hear plan A for Afghanistan very soon with other foreign policy goals of the administration following soon after.