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Let’s merely judge Obama against the goals he hoped to achieve, and let’s judge the success of the means by which he hoped to achieve them.
The core thrust of his foreign policy was to win America friends in the world — especially the Muslim world — and that he, Barack Obama, was critical to that approach. Had Obama succeeded in his goal, one would have had to grant him the personal credit for achieving that goal.
Which is fair, because if there is a leader in America who could do a better job articulating Obama’s “mutual respect, mutual interests” foreign policy, I’m not sure who it is. If there is a president or would-be president whose biography, patrimony and world view would engender greater trust in the Muslim world, I’m not sure who it would be. If there is one guy in America who, in 2008, had to be charged with helping raise America’s then-low standing in the Arab and Muslim world, it would have most likely been Obama, using exactly his gifts and exactly his policies.
Obama can’t construct a “what if” world where he gets to do things that weren’t done, say things that weren’t said, reach out in a way that wasn’t tried. The “what if” world he painted for the world in 2008 became the game plan for the following four years.
He had the time to pursue his approach fully. He had two full years before the uprising in Tahrir Square to create a vision for America’s new approach to its friends in the region. He has had nearly four full years to convince Israelis and Palestinians to make sacrifices for peace, something he believes is at the heart of the region’s conflicts. He has had the time to pull American troops out of Iraq, which was also supposed to improve our standing.
But the man, in the moment, proved wanting. He has no peace agreements. No new regional alliances. No new friends. Our first assassinated ambassador in three decades. Embassies under attack. In the region, America is more isolated than it was on January 19, 2009.
And all of this is before we get to the issue of Iran’s efforts to wipe Israel off the map. Whatever the merits of economic sanctions, international pressure and unknown intelligence efforts, Obama’s efforts have yielded this: The country we want to unnerve is confident; the country we want to calm is panicked. This is not an outcome of a winning foreign policy.
The results speak for themselves: We are more disliked than we were four years ago. We are closer to a major war between two countries in the Middle East than we have been in two decades. Four years into a presidency predicated on the promise of greater peace and greater respect, we have none of the former and less of the latter.
Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies. He was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.