Conservatives love to harp against the Obama administration, some even going so far as to suggest Obama was the worst president ever.
We can dispel that notion out of hand; Obama wasn’t even the worst president of the aughts – that distinction belongs to George W. Bush who lied his way into the invasion of Iraq, implemented torture as a tool of US policy, and watched the global economy meltdown on his watch; epic failures that Obama never matched.
That being said, the Obama presidency had problems.
Now, liberals tend to remember Obama as a wildly successful president; he has been the Democratic Party’s hallmark figure for fifteen years with no replacement in sight.
But Barack Obama’s iconic appeal stems from his identity and his personality. He’s cool. He’s charming. He’s smart. He’s the first black president ever, and accordingly, a historical titan.
Yet Obama’s record falls short of the pedestal liberals choose to remember him upon.
Let’s consider Obama’s foreign policy.
Barack Obama on foreign policy
The president, especially in the post-AUMF world, has the latitude to make a very personal mark on US foreign policy
. Obama came away with some foreign policy wins. He entered the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris agreement.
He got us out of Iraq. He killed Osama bin Laden.
And Obama ended the embargo against Cuba.
Yet despite a collection of wins, “Obama’s presidency is in other respects a tragedy,” wrote Stephen Walt. “Especially when it comes to foreign policy.”
“It is a tragedy because Obama had the opportunity to refashion America’s role in the world, and at times he seemed to want to do just that. The crisis of 2008-2009 was the ideal moment to abandon the failed strategy of liberal hegemony that the United States had been pursuing since the end of the Cold War, but in the end Obama never broke with that familiar but failed approach,” Walt wrote. “The result was a legacy of foreign-policy missteps that helped propel Donald Trump into the White House.”
Examples of Obama’s foreign policy missteps include: failing to conclude the war in Afghanistan despite having an eight-year window to do so. Indeed, Obama escalated the war with a 2009 “surge,” accomplishing nothing short from further entrenching US forces and further expending US lives/resources.
Obama accepted Bush’s War on Terror with open arms. Again, Barack Obama expanded unsavory elements of the mission, including the deployment of drones and special forces to hunt down suspected terrorists (including American citizens) worldwide.
There’s more that Obama got egregiously wrong. Obama supported the Saudi-led war/blockade of Yemen, facilitating mass casualties and mass suffering in what is generally considered “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Obama did so “without any comprehension of what the Saudi-led coalition was attempting to accomplish.”
Similarly, Obama “wrecked Libya for a generation,” creating a failed state, when he intervened to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi.
Obama did “pivot” the US toward Asia, a sound maneuver, but failed “to set clearer priorities or liquidate losing positions,” in effect hindering the pivot towards Asia.
“Managing relations in Asia is complex, challenging, and time-consuming, and the United States will not be able to manage its Asian alliances and counter a rising China if it is constantly being distracted by events in places of far less strategic importance,” Walt wrote.
Speaking generally, Walt wrote that “Obama tried to address a vast array of global problems as cheaply as possible…but never told the American people what their vital interests actually were. Equally important, this most eloquent of presidents never gave voters a simple template to help them distinguish between the places where the United States should stand ready to fight and regions it could safely leave to others.” Granted, the failure to discern between high-value and low-value priorities is hardly distinct to the Obama presidency – but it was a feature of the Obama presidency, and a failure, nonetheless.
And of equal concern – while Barack Obama was blundering abroad, he was prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists with a vigor that no president has had before or since, again, undermining the image of benevolence and decency that Democrats still associate with Obama.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.