Scoring Obama’s Foreign Policy Record

obama foreign policyAs the President Obama continues his first trip to Asia, prepares to order more troops to Afghanistan, and completes his eighth month in office, it’s worth looking back on the foreign policy campaign pledges candidate Obama made in the pages of Foreign Affairs in mid-2007. There, candidate Obama set himself and the nation a set of goals to accomplish in his first term. While we shouldn’t expect President Obama to have met all of these commitments in only eight months — for one, some are highly dependent on the reaction of fickle governments elsewhere — we can use these benchmarks to determine how far along the Obama administration has come on its foreign policy.

1.“[B]ring the Iraq war to a responsible end.”

Partially met. Outlined a plan to withdraw all U.S. troops by end of 2011, in accordance with U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Iraqi national elections are to occur in January 2010, after which U.S. troops will draw down to 50,000 by August 2010.

2.”[L]aunch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq.”

Unmet. No overt movement toward a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help resolve internal political conflicts in Iraq has occurred.

3.“[F]ocus our attention and influence on resolving the festering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians”

Partially met. Appointed former Senator George Mitchell as senior envoy on Middle East peace, but has achieved little in terms of Israelis and Palestinians keeping their previous commitments or returning to the negotiating table.

4.“Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran.”

Incomplete. Engaged Iran in serious direct negotiations on its nuclear program and engaged in public diplomacy, but has not received a positive or constructive response yet from Tehran.

5.“Diplomacy combined with pressure could also reorient Syria away from its radical agenda to a more moderate stance”

Incomplete. The administration has engaged Syria at the assistant secretary and special envoy levels, but results remain unclear. Additionally, Administration officials have stated a desire to send an ambassador to Syria, but none has been sent so far. However, the U.S. military held talks in August with Syrian officials on Syria-Iraq border control issues.

6.“[E]xpand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines”

Met. The Bush administration implemented this increase. Secretary of Defense Gates has since announced an expansion of the Army by 22,000 more troops.

7.“[W]ork with other nations to secure, destroy, and stop the spread of these weapons in order to dramatically reduce the nuclear dangers for our nation and the world. America must lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons and material at vulnerable sites within four years — the most effective way to prevent terrorists from acquiring a bomb.”

Partially met. The administration has achieved outline agreement on replacement for START treaty with Russia, with negotiations currently underway. Serious engagement underway on Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. President Obama has pledged ratification of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but no action has yet been taken in the Senate. The review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is upcoming in 2010.

8.“[P]rovide $50 million to jump-start the creation of an International Atomic Energy Agency-controlled nuclear fuel bank”

Unmet. Stalled in the IAEA.

9.“We should pursue an integrated strategy that reinforces our troops in Afghanistan and works to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces. Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads.”

Incomplete. Sent 32,000 U.S. reinforcements and engaged in diplomacy with Afghan neighbors. There has been no success in easing NATO caveats, and the heralded “civilian surge” has yet to reach full capacity. A review of U.S. strategy is currently underway.

10.“[E]ncourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region.”

Unmet. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke did not have India included from his portfolio after Indian preemptively protested at the prospect. It remains unclear who is coordinating between U.S. policy on India and Kashmir, though Holbrooke has visited the country. There has been no visible movement on Afghan-Pakistan border resolution, though increased tactical cooperation between U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan on issues like counternarcotics. It remains unclear if Pakistani security establishment has really given up on Afghan Taliban and associates.

11.“[W]e need a comprehensive strategy to defeat global terrorists — one that draws on the full range of American power, not just our military might.”

Unmet. The administration has yet to produce such a strategy, much less a formal national security strategy as required by law. However, administration has indicated its desire to use non-military means to counter terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan outlined the basics of such a strategy in an August speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

12.“[R]ebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security.”

Partially met. Relations with traditional allies in Europe have greatly improved on a popular level, though NATO remains reluctant to engage more deeply in Afghanistan. Brief spasm of discord among eastern European elites over revised missile defense plans, though old plans were unpopular.

13.“[F]orge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea.”

Unmet. The administration has held a Strategic and Economic Dialogue summit with China in the U.S., but upcoming trip to Asia is the first attempt to engage with the region and falls into the “occasional summit” category. President Obama has not yet put forward a broad framework for trans-Pacific relations.

14. “[T]he United Nations requires far-reaching reform… Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission.”

Partially met. The U.S. joined the UN Human Rights Council and “paid our bills,” but there has been little movement so far on UN reform.

15.“As president, I intend to enact a cap-and-trade system that will dramatically reduce our carbon emissions… We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most”

Unmet. The House of Representatives has pledged to go to the upcoming conference on climate change in Copenhagen if he believes his presence will help result in a “meaningful agreement.”

16.“[E]nding the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”

Partially met. President Obama announced his intention to close Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, though precise deadline is unlikely to be met as disposition of prisoners remains unclear. He also ordered overseas CIA “black sites” closed, and has argued for detention policies within existing legal framework.

17.“[H]elp build accountable institutions that deliver services and opportunity: strong legislatures, independent judiciaries, honest police forces, free presses, vibrant civil societies.”

Unmet. A USAID director was only appointed last week. There is a perception of the administration not focusing as much on human rights issues and too much on security force capacity building.

18.“[D]ouble our annual investment in meeting these [development] challenges to $50 billion by 2012”

Incomplete. The Foreign Operations request (minus security assistance) has increased $2.7 billion from the $26.4 billion spent in FY09 to a request of $29.1 billion in FY2010.

While the Obama administration has met only one of the foreign policy and national security goals candidate Obama set for it in mid-2007, it has made some progress — however uncertain and fragile — on a great many issues. Progress on a number of these issues – engagement with Iran and Syria or obtaining a new climate change agreement, for example — is dependent on factors outside President Obama’s control. Most of his goals receive incompletes, as the results from current initiatives have yet to bear fruit.