FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Name That Foreign Policy Legacy

by JOHN FEFFER

In re-electing President Barack Obama, voters decisively rejected the Republican version of economic reform. Obama is already angling to use his mandate to solve the nation’s fiscal woes by letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the rich.

But the election delivered no foreign policy statement. Mitt Romney and Obama rarely disagreed on anything that had to do with other countries.

Iran? Romney promised more of the same. Israel? Even more. Drone warfare? What drones?

There’s no reason to assume that Obama will adopt a bold new approach to foreign policy in his second term.

But never mind that, pundits and journalists are now playing their favorite post-election game: pumping up the legacy.

“For any reelected president, the notion of a foreign policy legacy has a certain allure,” Josh Gerstein wrote in Politico. “It offers a chance to leave a lasting global imprint — and an alternative to the daily interference of Congress on domestic issues.”

The New York Times’ editorial writers drafted a short list of options for Obama to choose from over the next two years — nuclear arms cuts, an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiations with Iran, a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine — before the next election season turns even the boldest president into a play-it-safe standard-bearer for his party.

I’m sure Obama would treasure a foreign policy legacy, like being known as the President Who Ended the Arab-Israeli Conflict or the President Who Froze Global Warming in Its Tracks. But let me inject a dose of realism into this debate on legacy. After all, Obama himself is a certified realist.

First of all, the idea that Obama can chart a foreign policy path without Republican interference is wishful thinking. On the first day of his first term, he tried to close the Guantanamo prison only to come up against a Republican wall of resistance. He pledged to reduce nuclear weapons but GOP lawmakers made an arms control agreement with Moscow contingent on an extravagant modernization of the very nuclear weapons complex that should have been going on the chopping block. Republican-controlled House committees — Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources — block the White House from addressing climate change.

Just this year, Obama tried to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the Taliban — the first step in what might have been more wide-ranging negotiations — but the Republican Congress balked.

Obama can, of course, travel wherever he pleases and talk to whomever he wants. But if the discussions result in a treaty, the Senate must approve it by a two-thirds vote — and the Democrats don’t have that margin of control. If the discussions result in an agreement that costs any money, then the House Appropriations committee has to weigh in. And that brings the Republicans back into the loop.

But let’s assume for a moment that Obama can overcome these political obstacles. Is he willing to invest the political capital to do so?

The record so far suggests that he likes to make important game-changing speeches — on re-engaging the Muslim world, on nuclear abolition — but he isn’t willing to put in the monumental effort to implement these visions.

The Obama administration prefers to “lead from behind” rather than step boldly in front of everyone else. It makes the home front — think health care reform — the top priority.

The one major diplomatic accomplishment of his first term — the rapprochement with Burma that culminated in Obama’s recent trip there — is emblematic of this more modest approach to foreign policy. The negotiations with a junta making a slow transition away from authoritarianism have taken place rather quietly, in close coordination with allies, and away from the main stage of global affairs.

Under Obama’s leadership, Washington is finally coming to terms with the world’s multipolarity. The notion that one man — or one country — can change this multipolar world is fast becoming antiquated.

Getting Americans to accept this new reality may ultimately mark Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

John Feffer is an Open Society Fellow for 2012-13 focusing on Eastern Europe. He is on leave from the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project. www.fpif.org

Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail