One bullseye cannot rescue Obama’s record

By Gideon Rachman

“Weak.” “Apologist.” Those two words are repeated endlessly in the Republican party’s attack on Barack Obama, as it tries to persuade voters that the US president is not worthy of another term as commander-in-chief.

The charge of weakness will be difficult to make stick. As the president’s team will endlessly remind us, he is the man who sent in a combat team to kill Osama bin Laden – against the advice of some of his aides – and who has ruthlessly pounded al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan with drone strikes.

The irony is that there are really serious criticisms that can be made of Mr Obama’s handling of foreign affairs. But the real problem is not that he is weak or apologises for the US. It is that he has over-promised and under-delivered. Fortunately for the president, this is a relatively complicated idea that relies on some knowledge of world affairs. Therefore it is not a critique that the Republicans are likely to attempt.

Nonetheless, it is sobering to measure Mr Obama against the goals he set himself. His international priorities in 2008 were clear and ambitious. He intended to solve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy. He wanted to make peace between Israel and Palestine. He would transform America’s image in the Muslim world. The Guantánamo prison camp would close and terrorists would be tried in US courts. The new president would get the US out of Iraq and use the freed-up resources to fix Afghanistan. And he would dramatically improve relations with Russia and China, allowing the world to make progress on issues of common concern, from global warming to global trade.

Go down this checklist and you will notice far more failures than successes. The rapprochement with Iran never happened. Instead, as Mr Obama nears the end of his first term, the US and Iran are dangerously close to armed conflict. The president’s efforts to revive the Middle East peace process have got nowhere. Guantánamo has not closed and the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is taking place there. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on May 14, 2012.


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