The Economist leans toward President Obama. Having supported him editorially, it tries to present him in a favorable light.
It’s becoming more and more difficult.
This week it concedes that Obama is projecting a dangerous weakness in his handling of foreign policy.
As might be expected, The Economist begins by absolving Obama for his handling of the Iraq War. It is mistaken. If Obama projected anything but weakness in his management of Iraq policy, no one noticed.
Then it goes on to explain that Obama is the victim of circumstances. What with the rise of China and the end of the Cold War, the world has changed. Besides, he did right by not sending troops into Crimea.
The magazine writes:
The critics who pin all the blame on Mr Obama are wrong. It was not he who sent troops into the credibility-sapping streets of Baghdad. More important, America could never sustain the extraordinary heights of global dominance it attained with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As China grew into a giant, it was bound to want a greater say. And the president has often made the right call: nobody thinks he should have sent troops to Crimea, despite the breaking of the 1994 agreement.
True enough, Obama did not send American troops into Iraq. And he is not responsible for the initial mismanagement of the occupation. And yet, hellbent on getting out of Iraq, no matter the cost, he looked like he was ducking a fight. Or better, he did not see the Iraq War as America’s war. He saw it as Bush’s war. Today’s Iraq is largely his responsibility.
One sympathizes with the difficulty The Economist had in finding evidence of an Obama foreign policy success. Not sending troops into the Crimea might count as one, if anyone had ever imagined doing so. No one did. Besides, looking weak is Obama’s signature. The Economist would have done better not to praise him for for showing weakness in an article that criticizes him for being weak.
I am sure that the magazine’s editors recognize that there is more to conducting foreign policy than not sending troops. Those liberal and progressive commentators who have remarked perspicaciously that Obama has been largely outplayed, even embarrassed by Vladimir Putin are far closer to the truth.
Finally, The Economist arrives at Obama’s failures. They are substantive, to the point of being crucial. They begin with his failure to keep his word. In Obama’s world, bluster is as good as action. To the dismay of America’s allies, he has been showing himself to be untrustworthy:
Yet Mr Obama has still made a difficult situation worse in two ways. First, he has broken the cardinal rule of superpower deterrence: you must keep your word. In Syria he drew “a red line”: he would punish Bashar Assad if he used chemical weapons. The Syrian dictator did, and Mr Obama did nothing. In response to Russia’s aggression, he threatened fierce sanctions, only to unveil underwhelming ones. He had his reasons: Britain let him down on Syria, Europe needs Russian gas, Congress is nervous. But the cumulative message is weakness.
As for forging alliances and conducting relationships with foreign governments, Obama has failed. He did not know how to forge alliances and conduct relationships with members of Congress. He has done no better around the world:
Second, Mr Obama has been an inattentive friend. He has put his faith in diplomatic coalitions of willing, like-minded democracies to police the international system. That makes sense, but he has failed to build the coalitions. And using diplomacy to deal with the awkward squad, such as Iran and Russia, leads to concessions that worry America’s allies. Credibility is about reassurance as well as the use of force.
Credibility is also easily lost and hard to rebuild.