Could President Obama’s “straddling the fence” approach to foreign policy cause him and America to suffer the same consequences of the failed Carter administration’s policies? Further, could his approach ring a death knell for future presidents who embrace such a cautious and somewhat incoherent tact to foreign policy?
“Neither a cold-blooded realist nor a bleeding-heart idealist, Barack Obama has a split personality when it comes to foreign policy. So do most U.S. presidents, of course, and the ideas that inspire this one have a long history at the core of the American political tradition. In the past, such ideas have served the country well. But the conflicting impulses influencing how this young leader thinks about the world threaten to tear his presidency apart -- and, in the worst scenario, turn him into a new Jimmy Carter.”
“Obama may well believe what he said in his inaugural speech -- "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" -- but as any president must he is already making exactly those tradeoffs. Why else refuse to meet the Dalai Lama? Why else pledge support to the corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or aid Pakistan despite the dismal track record of both the civil and military arms of the Pakistani government when it comes to transparent use of U.S. resources? Did the administration not renew its efforts to build a relationship with the regime in Tehran even as peaceful democratic protesters were being tortured and raped in its jails? Is Obama not taking "incentives" to Khartoum, a regime that has for more than a decade pursued a policy in Darfur that the U.S. government has labeled genocidal? It is hard to reconcile the transcendent Wilsonian vision of America's future with a foreign policy based on dirty compromises with nasty regimes”.
“Carter faced many of the same problems, and the image of weakness and indecision that helped doom his 1980 run for re-election is a perennial problem for Jeffersonian presidents. Obama will have to leap over these hurdles now, too. The contradiction between the sober and limited realism of the Jeffersonian worldview and the expansive, transformative Wilsonian agenda is likely to haunt this administration as it haunted Carter's, most fatefully when he rejected calls to let the shah of Iran launch a brutal crackdown to remain in power. Already the Wilsonians in Obama's camp are muttering darkly about his failure to swiftly close the Guantánamo prison camp, his fondness for government secrecy, his halfhearted support for investigating abuses of the past administration, and his failure to push harder for a cap-and-trade bill before the Copenhagen summit.”
Walter Russell Mead is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations