That President Obama attempted to put a positive spin on his Administration's beleaguered foreign policy in his fifth State of the Union Address should have come as a surprise to no one. From the Middle East to Asia, recent months have witnessed a United States in strategic retreat and a growing list of adversaries emboldened by America's perceived weakness. So it was to be expected that the president's speech on Tuesday evening entailed a significant burnishing of his meager accomplishments abroad.
Even so, the address included a number of blatant mischaracterizations of just what the White House has (and has not) done on the foreign policy front. Herewith, a modest corrective:
· "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." A nice talking point, to be sure. But the scheme to rid the Assad regime of its chemical weapons was actually a Russian invention — one that was eagerly seized upon by an administration desperate to avoid following through on its ill-conceived pledge of military action in Syria. It has also created massive distortions in our Syria policy, effectively transforming the West into an insurance agent for Syria's dictator because he alone can offer up his government's chemical arsenal.
· Israel "knows America will always be at their side." True enough; history shows that there is a deep bipartisan wellspring of support for the Jewish state in American politics. But no president has presided over a steeper decline in bilateral ties than Obama. Today, Washington and Jerusalem have a fundamental divergence of opinion on a range of key issues, and the Obama administration's choices (on Iran, Egypt, terrorism and other topics) have significantly, and adversely, affected Israeli security.
· The U.S. has "halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program." Not so. To the contrary, the nuclear deal hammered out between Western powers and Iran in Geneva last November allows the Islamic Republic to continue enriching uranium, as long as it stays at "civilian" levels (5% or lower). This represents a significant walking back of the policy dog, since U.S. officials initially had insisted that Iran needed to halt all enrichment activities as a prerequisite for negotiations, let alone sanctions relief.
· "From Tunisia to Burma, we're supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy." Really? In truth, the Obama administration has consistently failed to support democratic forces worldwide. In Iran, it has eschewed support for that country's beleaguered opposition in favor of engagement with its repressive clerical elite. In Russia, it has studiously ignored opposition elements and remained silent in the face of the Kremlin's mounting authoritarianism. And in a slew of Latin American nations, it has voiced only muted support for those standing in defiance of the prevailing leftist "Bolivarian" narrative championed by the likes of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuador's Rafael Correa.
· "In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country's future." Maybe so. But Team Obama has done little to date to tangibly support the brave protesters of the "Euromaidan" in their struggle against the corrupt, repressive government of pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych. America's inertia, in turn, has served to embolden the Kremlin in its efforts to bring Ukraine back into its geopolitical orbit.
· "We will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster." If only. Two years after its inception, the Obama administration's vaunted "pivot" to Asia remains largely notional, with scant evidence of a serious U.S. commitment to a strengthened network of alliances in the region. Perhaps that is why Washington has failed to muster a robust response in the face of China's increasingly aggressive territorial claims in the South and East China Seas — leaving regional allies like the Philippines and Japan much the worse for wear.
The record is extensive, and damning. The Obama administration has racked up a stunning array of foreign policy failures during its time in office to the great detriment of America's security and global standing. Neither the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union nor the president's flowery oratory can mask this sad reality.