Last night, Condi Rice took on President Obama’s foreign policy leadership, declaring “We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.” Here are ten areas where Obama’s reluctance to lead has cost America dearly in the past three-and-a-half years:
- Obama has failed to lead on Iran. Sanctions and negotiations are failing, and Iran has made more progress toward a nuclear weapon in the past three-and-a-half years under Obama than it has in the three decades since the Iranian revolution – with more centrifuges, more stockpiles of high enriched uranium, and more hardened facilities than when Obama took office. Iran has no fear that Obama will take military action to stop them – because they know full well that Obama has staked his presidential legacy on ending wars, not starting them.
- Obama is failing to lead in Syria. Iran’s closest ally in the Middle East is massacring tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children while America sits on the sidelines doing nothing – because Russia and China won’t let us.
- Obama is failing to lead on Afghanistan. He launched a surge but then undermined it by announcing our withdrawal before the additional forces arrived – sending a signal to the Taliban that they could simply wait for America’s pre-announced retreat to re-take major swaths of the country and invite al Qaeda back.
- Obama is failing to lead on national defense. He cut $330 billion from defense programs in 2009 and some $80 billion in 2010 – and then announced another $400 billion in cuts over ten years in 2011 – for a total of over $800 billion. In other words, he has asked our men and women in uniform to pay for his failed stimulus. And that was before sequestration. In all, Obama has put us on track to cut defense spending by more than a trillion dollars beginning next year – cuts his own defense secretary says will leave us with the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and the smallest Air Force ever. Obama is the first president in history to try and reap a “peace dividend” when our nation is still at war.
- Obama has failed to lead on trade. Obama enacted free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, but as the saying goes, “he didn’t build those” — they were negotiated during the Bush administration. Obama has not enacted a single free trade agreement of his own since taking office – while China has signed 15 and is negotiating as many as 18 more.
- Obama has failed to lead on China. He done nothing while China manipulates its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage. And he announced his much hyped “pivot to Asia” that was meant to reassure our allies, but has only done the opposite — because he has not given our military the resources they need to carry it out (see #4).
- Obama has failed to lead in Latin America. He’s stood by while Hugo Chavez has welcomed Hezbollah with open arms and allowed them to establish a beachhead in our hemisphere.
- Obama has failed to lead on Russia. As part of his vaunted “reset” of relations with Russia, he caved in to Moscow’s demands that we cancel our missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic – and did it on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. What did he get for it? Nothing. Russia is as intransigent as ever on Syria and Iran.
- Obama has failed to lead on the Middle East peace. He can barely hide his contempt for Prime Minister Netanyahu, trash talking him with world leaders and publicly undermining the Israeli leader by declaring – without warning him and over the objections of his own advisers – that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines.
- Obama has failed to lead on Egypt. While Egyptians protested by the tens of thousands in Tahrir Square, his Secretary of State reminded them that Mubarak was a personal friend of her family and declared the Egyptian government stable. The Egyptian people never forgot it. Last week, their new president traveled to Iran in a trip that was seen as a declaration of independence from America.
- Obama has failed to lead on Iraq. He withdrew not just combat forces but all U.S. forces – and then cut our training efforts and our diplomatic presence – effectively handing the country over to Iran and squandering the sacrifices of our troops. Imagine what Asia would look like today if Truman had done that in Japan and Korea.
- And, finally, Obama has put our global leadership at risk by racking up more debt in the previous four years than any American president in history. As Rice put it, “When the world looks at us today, they see an American government that cannot live within its means. They see an American government that continues to borrow money, that will mortgage the future of generations to come. The world knows that when a nation loses control of its finances, it eventually loses control of its destiny.”
And even that only scratches the surface. I’m sure my AEI colleagues can find areas I’ve overlooked.
So in a sense, Condi Rice had it wrong last night. Obama is not leading from behind – he is not leading at all.