One of the things most often criticzed about the Obama presidency is his foreign policy. Even some of his strongest supporters offer up a vague mea culpa that mistakes were made and the half-hearted defense that Obama is “better than Bush.” Well I’d say that’s an understatement for the ages.
Obama is not merely “better than Bush” when it comes to foreign policy (which is roughly the same as saying a new Mercedes is better than a 30-year-old Gremlin). I think arguably the strongest aspect of his presidency is foreign policy. Let’s take a quick look at where we were when Obama took office vs. where we are now…
Russia 2008: Surging, with Vladimir strengthening his grip on the region, and Russia increasing militarily and economically. Bush, notoriously, said he’d looked into Putin’s eyes and saw a good man. Russia 2016: What’s slightly better than a burning dumpster fire? Their Syria incursion did not save Putin’s popularity the way invading Ukraine did, and it’s the only country outside the former Soviet Union where they have a military base so that’s why they were desperate to save Assad…and it’s not clear that they did. This idea that Russia are super-elite terrorist killers who can do what America can’t is more mythology than reality. Oh, and their economy is one bad year away from total collapse due to stagnating oil prices. Obama’s drive to make oil prices low have directly curtailed the awakening Russian “bear.”
Venezuela 2008: Hugo Chavez made his feelings on Bush quite clear, calling him the Devil every time somebody asked. Also, their economy was much better than it is today, and Bush’s fued with Chavez may have made Venezuela seem like a much bigger threat than they actually are. Venezuela 2016: Chavez is dead, but not before slightly thawing relations with America and saying he liked Obama more than Bush. Venezuela’s collapsing economy (also due to low oil prices) has meant they can no longer keep Cuba afloat.
Cuba 2008: The Castros might seemingly live forever, and there’s absolutley no thawing of relations with them. Cuba 2016: A missing-in-action Fidel is either dead or demented, and Raul is desperate to make a deal now that Russia and Venezuela can no longer keep Cuba’s economy afloat. Once again, oil’s increasing irrelevance is causing unlikely partnerships with America’s top enemies. [And didn’t Obama look like he was having a good time in Havana?] Which leads us to…
Iran 2008: Bush declared them part of the Axis of Evil and it looked all but certain they would be the next horrible Middle-Eastern war we’d be ensnared in. Iran 2016: Relations have thawed enormously, and their own low oil prices and collapsing economy have caused them to seek an end to American sanctions. Our relations with them are at their best point in decades. It also looks like a sure-thing disastrous war with Iran is off the table.
North Korea 2008: Kim Jong Ill was one of the largest threats to America and another member of the so-called Axis of Evil. North Korea 2016: Ill is dead and his young son has taken his place. Not even China seems to want to defend North Korea these days, and are increasingly tired of this unreliable neighbor. No matter how to slice it, the country just doesn’t seem as threatening as it once did.
China 2008: The awakened dragon seemed to be on a sure-thing course to seize global power from America and surpass us economically. Every other article seemed to suggest that this century would belong to China, and not the United States. China 2016: A worsening economy has all but ended talk that they are the place to be over America. They’re still a threat—more to our economic dominance than militarily—but they seem a lot worse off now than they did when Obama took office.
The “Disasters” that Actually Aren’t
Saudia Arabia/Israel…I’m sure they don’t like being lumped together, but most people say that Obama’s relations with these two countries are worse than Bush’s were, in large part due to defrosting relations with Iran. I’m sure that’s true, but both of these countries wanted us to invade Iran, and I’d take a less-warm friendship with them than an outright hatred with Iran.
Libya…People always say that Obama’s biggest blunder was intervening in Libya. People are wrong. They assume that our goal was ever to replace Gaddafi with a friendly democracy instead of just taking out a tyrant hell-bent on killing his own people. Plus, Gaddafi was an unpredictable terrorist-sponsor and it probably isn’t a downgrade to have Libya be a failed state rather than a strong antagonist.
Syria…There is nothing Obama could have done differently. Nothing. Bush’s decision to disband the Iraqi military and give ISIS it’s strongest commanders led to ISIS more than anything else. Plus, the Syrian Civil War was going on before ISIS even showed up. The confrontation between Assad’s forces and a legitimate Sunni rebellion was due to climate crisis causing a severe drought that led to unrest in the rural areas heavily dependent on agriculture. Short of getting in a time machine, and going back 30 years ago to do something about climate crisis, there’s not much Obama could have done differently. Syria is a quagmire without an obvious solution, and I’m not sure why the President of America is supposed to have one.
In Total: We’re looking at all of our major enemies or competitors in a worse position than they ever have been, and a couple of failed states that may have actually hobbled more antagonistic, terrorist-sponsoring dicators (Assad, Gaddafi). I don’t see “failure” anywhere in this list.