Out In the Cold: A Look at Obama’s Foreign Policy

The foreign policy strategy of the Obama Administration, at least in its first four months, could be described as a terrifying mix of obsequiousness, blind optimism, and naivete. From incessant apologies to timidity in the face of the nation’s enemies, the Obama Doctrine seems to have the permanent weakening of America as its primary goal. A breakdown by region follows.


If the hero’s welcome he received last summer was any guide, President Obama surely expected the transatlantic relationship to be the feather in his foreign policy cap. The president is a committed supporter of multilateralism and international organizations, is against torture in any and all circumstances, and is anti-war—an exemplary liberal resume that Europe was supposed to share. President Obama soon found out, however, that the adoration of the European crowds did not translate into political support from their leaders. Even such self-denigrating statements as “we have been arrogant, dismissive, and derisive” during his speeches failed to move Europe’s leaders. The president’s two major appeals to Old Europe—for sending more troops to Afghanistan and for larger stimulus packages on the Continent—yielded nothing more than a collective cold shoulder.


Ever since the world’s attention was turned towards Russia after the Georgia conflict last August, President Obama has shown himself to be less than concerned with Russia’s newly aggressive policies. During the war, his statements consisted solely of non-committal calls for both sides to cease hostilities. And in March, the president decided that the need for (useless) diplomatic support against Iran outweighed whatever wrongs Russia may have committed in the past (and the concerns of many Eastern European nations), sending Secretary of State Clinton to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister and “reset” relations between the two countries. (The new State Department seized the opportunity to prove its ineptitude by sending Secretary Clinton to the meeting with a symbolic “reset” button mistakenly labeled with the Russian word for “overload.”) Yet, as in Europe, President Obama has nothing to show for this fawning stance other than a weaker hand at the negotiating table and less respect from foreign leaders.

Israel and Iran

Despite the tough talk and ongoing negotiations, it is clear that the Obama Administration has resigned itself to a nuclear-armed Iran. Accordingly, it has decided to focus its diplomatic efforts on preventing Israel from rocking the boat by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. President Obama sent CIA Director Leon Panetta to Israel ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington to make the American view entirely clear to Israeli officials. Whether Netanyahu will keep his campaign promise to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is unclear if he receives no U.S. support. Iran’s leaders, meanwhile, have said that President Obama’s rhetoric of change is empty and that there has in fact been no change in U.S. foreign policy. Whatever goodwill the president hoped to create in Iran with his overly gracious attitude has failed to materialize.

Iraq and Afghanistan

For years now, a common claim among critics of the Bush Administration has been that the invasion of Afghanistan was justified, while the invasion of Iraq was not. Thus, the United States should pull out of Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. This view has now been adopted by the Obama Administration; most troops are due to be out of Iraq by August of next year, while there will be a “surge” in Afghanistan. While this may sound fine on the surface, with this policy there exists the possibility of a disastrous double loss in which Iraq plunges into chaos following a U.S. withdrawal and Afghanistan proves that it still deserves its moniker as the “graveyard of empires.” The strategies that have worked so far in Iraq may not be as applicable to Afghanistan as the president might think. In his zeal to win the war he views as “right,” he may end up sacrificing a victory in the one he so despises.

North Korea

The Obama Administration’s attitude towards North Korea is strikingly similar to that of Iran—i.e., extremely weak. Despite repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea launched a missile over the Pacific Ocean on April 5, passing over Japan en route. The response of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was shocking in its simultaneous nonchalance and profound implications: “I would say we’re not prepared to do anything about it.” Shortly after the missile launch, North Korea announced that it was restarting its nuclear facilities and pulling out of disarmament talks. The United States is apparently not prepared to do anything about that, either. On Monday, North Korea tested a second nuclear weapon.

*To sum up, President Obama’s foreign policy thus far has done little other than frighten America’s allies (Israel, Japan, and all of Eastern Europe, just to name a few) while emboldening its enemies. Most significantly, it has done nothing to further the national interests of the United States, which should be the primary goal of any country in its conduct of diplomacy. Unfortunately, the president’s empty sweet-talking and refusal to confront hostile regimes, though borne out of a heart-felt desire for peace and security, may leave the world with neither. *

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