‘A year of little change for Obama’

On foreign policy, president has confused popularity with progress, says Richard Grenell.

US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki of Iraq
Protesters demonstrate against Obama receiving a Nobel Peace Prize [GALLO/GETTY] 

This past year has not been a successful one for the 44th president of the US.

Although the Barack Obama administration has had the incredible luxury of having its own political party – the Democrats – control the House of Representatives and the Senate by wide margins, there has been little progress on domestic and international issues.

Obama and his team have the ability to pass any bill and create any new law they want without relying on a single Republican vote. And yet, the Obama administration has failed to capitalise on that advantage.

As Obama came into office, he promised lots of change. But so far, not much has changed.

Domestically, the US is facing the largest unemployment rates in decades and the American budget deficit is at an all time high.

Internationally, it may now appear to be more popular but that is largely because we are not asking countries to do much these days.

The Obama team is not leading the world. They have chosen the easy path of non-confrontation. Copenhagen is proof.

Sadly, the administration has confused popularity with progress.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the Obama administration’s foreign policy priorities over the last year:

Iran – ‘pushing the reset button’

Has Obama eased the pressure on the Iranian government? [EPA]

Consecutive United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iran were passed during the Bush administration and the pressure was placed on the Iranian government to stop enriching uranium.

Resolution 1737 imposed strict sanctions on the government of Iran and was passed unanimously by the Security Council on December 23, 2006, after weeks of negotiations and stalling tactics from China and Russia.

Resolutions 1696, 1747 and 1803, all passed during the Bush administration, kept the pressure mounting on Iran to abide by the international community’s demands to suspend all nuclear enrichment activity.

Despite grumblings from Security Council members about having to vote for such measures, the Bush administration forced the votes and in the end was able to get multiple resolutions passed with unanimous support.

Where Bush successfully isolated the government of Iran, the Obama administration has eased the pressure on them and the members of the Security Council.

Instead of building on all of the work that had been done to negotiate sanctions, the Obama administration pushed the “reset button” and started over, thereby releasing the mounting pressure.

The Russians and Chinese were relieved that UN resolution negotiations were not proceeding with urgency. China and Russia even complimented the Obama administration as a group of “good listeners” and the new process as “respectful”.

The government of Iran, too, was pleased to have more time to enrich uranium and less pressure to stop their delivery system testing.

The Obama administration has not produced a single UN Security Council resolution on Iran since it took office – the last one was passed by Bush a full 15 months ago.

The Obama administration’s policy on Iran has been a complete failure and has only strengthened Iran’s resolve.

AfPak – ‘Obama’s war to win or lose’

President Obama’s December announcement that he will send 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan was a welcomed sign for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Although the Obama team spent too much time fretting over their decision to add the troops because it would upset activists in the Democratic party, Obama’s decision was a courageous one.

Democratic leaders, however, are not pleased with it. Nancy Pelosi recently said that it will be up to Obama to make his own case for the troop increase because politicians are sceptical and Dennis Kucinich has vowed to offer a bill that would pull all American troops from Afghanistan immediately.

Obama is now in the uncomfortable position of having to count on Republicans to support his troop increase decision and to give him one of his few victories this year. 

Obama’s announcement now makes the war in Afghanistan his war to win or lose.

In Pakistan, the Obama team has a mixed record over the last year.

While making the Afghanistan announcement in conjunction with a new robust strategy to confront terrorists in Pakistan, the Obama team has signalled their willingness to think strategically in the region.

For the US, a successful Afghanistan strategy can only be achieved when al-Qaeda and the Taliban are wiped out in both countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan alone is of no strategic value to the US.

While we hope that democracy can be achieved for the people of Afghanistan and that they will be able to have a greater quality of life, these pursuits of human rights and development should be led by the United Nations.

Pakistan, however, is a more important strategic partner for the US and Obama has yet to recognise it. Ensuring that the government of Pakistan is able to deal with its extremists should be a top priority for America.

So far, Obama has not been able to develop a strategy to deal with Asif Zadari, Pakistan’s president, and the growing anti-Americanism in his country.

Iraq – ‘Candidate Obama v. President Obama’

Candidate Obama promised to pull troops from Iraq as soon as he took office. But President Obama learned that it was not possible.

Republicans were pleased that Obama took the advice of his military advisors and changed his policy but his Democratic colleagues have continued to complain about a campaign promise that is still unfulfilled.

In trying to capitalise on the growing American frustration over the lack of progress in Iraq, candidate Obama outmaneuvered Hilary Clinton and then John McCain.

The many Americans who voted for Obama because they wanted the troops to come home from Iraq have also been disappointed.

But the administration is gambling that an emphasis on a troop increase in Afghanistan and a new robust strategy for Pakistan will insulate them from charges of military weakness in Iraq. 

Israel and Palestine – ‘Missteps and missed opportunities’

Negotiate or dictate: How has Obama seen his role in resolving this conflict? [GALLO/GETTY]

Perhaps the one issue that brought Arabs around the world the most hope for progress with the election of Barack Obama was the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Even some in the US were hopeful that Obama would be able to reassure the Palestinians and that America’s historical tie with Israel would be sufficient enough to bring the parties together to form a permanent peace.

But Obama stumbled early on with his Cairo speech and his directive on settlements.

He failed to challenge Arabs to act during his Cairo speech and it was seen by Israel and many in the US as a missed opportunity.

His public instruction that Israel cease all settlement activity was also a misstep.

American presidents can privately cajole and push the parties to negotiate but no American president can dictate to the parties what should be done.

Obama must learn that the Palestinians and the Israelis must each bargain and agree to the terms of any peace deal on their own if it is to last.

In 2001, George Bush, the former US president, appointed Richard Grenell as the director of communications and public diplomacy for the US permanent representative to the UN. In this role, he advised four US ambassadors – John D. Negroponte, John C. Danforth, John R. Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad – on the formulation and articulation of US policy at the UN.

He and his team have led communications strategies on issues such as: the ‘war on terrorism’ in Afghanistan and Iraq; peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Liberia, the Congo and Sudan; the conflict in the Middle East; Iran’s nuclear weapons programme; a North Korean missile test; the conflict between Syria and Lebanon; and the UN’s Oil for Food Corruption investigation, to name a few.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera