Sunday, January 24, 2010

Grading Obama

Everybody else has been doing this to mark the first year of Obama's presidency so I thought I'd give it a shot too. I however will acknowledge my limitations and stick to rating his foreign policy. Here it goes.
I'll be tougher than those who adore him at MSNBC, but fairer than those who loath him at Fox.

On the Middle East. I'll give Obama a C +. It started off well last January when he sent George Mitchell to the Holy Land. I had high hopes that the former Northern Ireland envoy would make progress but to my knowledge, little has happened. Having said that, if as I suspect, George Mitchell has been involved in intensive behind the scenes negotiations with belligerent Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria in an effort to get them to recognise Israel as part of a wider Arab Israeli settlement then perhaps Obama's Middle East strategy has been more successful than I am giving credit. For now though I am sticking with my grade mainly because of the lack of progress and because of the Obama's administrations failure to successfully lobby the Netenyahu government into a comprehensive settlement freeze. And for the Sarah Palin's and Mike Huckabee's that say America has no right to tell Jews where they can or cannot live on their own land, I beg to differ. If the United Sates is sending billions of dollars in loan guarantees and military aid to Israel on an annual basis then Washington most certainly does have the right to step in and reprimand Israel for pursuing a policy that obstructs US policy of achieving stability in the region through a two state solution.

On Afghanistan and Pakistan. I'll give the president a B. Firstly, it is clear that Obama, immediately on taking office proved that the critics who said he was weak and without the stomach to fight the war on terror were wrong. He has fought the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Quaeda in Pakistan in an aggressive manner. He has approved scores of UAV drone attacks on Al Quaeda leaders in both countries despite the political dangers of doing so in Pakistan. In his first year in office he has ordered an additional 47,000 troops to Afghanistan, thats more than Bush sent in seven years. Perhaps his biggest achievement though was convincing the Pakistani government to take the war to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This resulted in the all out offensive last May by the Pakistani military in the Swat Valley region. However there is nothing worse than a directionless war that drags on and on. I still do not understand what exactly the President wants to achieve in Afghanistan and his inability to articulate it clearly is making people nervous. My fear that Obama does not have a clear vision for Afghanistan was not helped by the unusual way he handled the request from General McChrystal for extra troops. It was not so much that it took several months to make the decision that bothered me but the manner in which he announced that he would be sending 30,000 troops, only to minutes later say that he would begin withdrawing all troops by 2011. To me it seemed as though he was trying to please everybody and ended up looking silly. Frankly he should stop worrying about looking tough for the republicans and anti war for his base. He should just do his job as Commander in Chief.

On the missile shield. Obama gets an A +. For reasons I made clear here, I always felt that the proposed Missile Defence Shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was a joke. Neither country wanted it and only agreed to it when the Bush administration bribed them with a promise of tens of billions of Euros investments in their armed forces. Obama knew the shield was not about American national security and rightly shelved it. It was nauseating to hear the right wing pundits rant how Obama had sold out our Eastern European allies Chamberlin style, in order to appease an aggressive Russia. These same pundits conveniently ignored Russia's announcement after Obama's decision that they were abandoning plans to build a missile system in the Russian enclave of Kallingrad. Furthermore, Obama's decision has and may continue to pay dividends when it comes to getting Russia on board for tough action on Iran.

On Iraq. Obama gets a B +. He has stuck to the time table for withdrawal and he didn't panick after renewed attacks last Autumn. Iraq fell off the radar big time in 2009 so its hard to judge but since there appears to be progress and violence levels have not returned to anything like the 2006 levels I am going to be generous.

On Iran. This is the most difficult call to make and I'll leave it until the end to deliver Obama's final grade. Obama's strategy of engaging Iran has not worked as far as we know. However if it turns out that there has been behind the scenes negotiations happening the doubters could be proved wrong. Imagine an opening to Iran on the scale of Nixon's famous opening to China in 1972. Such a development, if it meant a non nuclear Iran would be a major achievement. However like Afghanistan, Obama's Iran policy is unclear to me. When violence broke out in Iran last June after the disputed Presidential election Obama rightly condemned the repression but he did so quite softly. At the time I thought this was wise because an Iranian opposition movement must be seen to be a grass roots movement and not driven by Washington. I could tell from my own experiences in Iran how ingrained the 1953 Mohammed Mossadeq incident still is in the Iranian psyche. Having said that the truth is that no matter what the reform movement does on the streets of Iran the Mullahs are going to blame it on the west regardless. This is why my opinion began to harden last December when violence returned following the Ayatollah Montazeri funeral and I began to wonder if covert action against the regime is the solution. The truth is Iran has been stalling for time for years and have again demonstrated a willingness to use exceptional brutality against their own people. Anybody who thought this type of severe repression was confined to the early days of the revolution has been proved wrong. Iran and the nuclear issue is going to come to a head and I really think that 2010 could be the year. For me it all boils down to whether Obama has a clear strategy. Does he want to open up to Iran or does he want to sponsor regime change. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he has chosen one of these two options but I find not knowing which to be extremely disconcerting. Obama gets a B from me on Iran.


Anonymous said...

obama's nothing short of a hero. 1 health reform, 2 missile dissarming, 3 middle east brokering, 4 guamtanamo clampdown, 5 getting in there in the first place, and 6 he's from tullamore! eoghan.

ps where'v ya been the last few days, I need your updates to keep abreast of the international gossip

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Eoghan

I reckon hero is a bit much. Its not like he's Robbie Keane or anything.

Sorry for my absence bro but I'll be up watching Obama's state of the union address tonight and I'll be doing something on it after.

DT said...

Speaking of Tullamore, you all set for tomorrow Ted?

Ted Leddy said...


Looking forward to it.