From Washington Examiner
In foreign affairs, unlike math, the ultimate determination of success or failure isn’t immediately obvious. Major foreign events — wars, revolutions, coup d’etats and treaties — can take a long time to play out.
The Korean Conflict, once nearly as unpopular as the Vietnam War, is now probably viewed by most Americans as a “good war,” and Washington’s 63-year defense of Seoul as a worthwhile investment. Thirty-seven thousand U.S. servicemen, a number that dwarfs those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, didn’t die in vain.
Historical judgments are temperamental and subject to change until sufficient good news or bad piles up — and even then things can change given the mood and character of the nation looking back.
Few Democrats really want to expend much effort touting the foreign-policy successes of Jimmy Carter; more Democrats, but still not many, want to remember how ardently they believed Ronald Reagan would bring on Armageddon. The Soviet empire’s collapse in 1989-90 and Mikhail Gorbachev’s judgment on Reagan (a “great president”) puts anti-Reagan leftists in a difficult position. Facts can matter.
Which brings us to President Obama, who in his own way is probably the most consequential commander in chief since Reagan. For some, he’s the worst foreign-policy president since World War II; for others he’s perhaps one of the best.
Despite his aggressive use of drones and special-forces operations, his embrace of rendition, his failure to close Guantanamo and the lingering war in Afghanistan, he has done much “to bring America home” and weaken the case for future foreign interventions.
Arguing about Obama’s legacy is difficult because the United States may be at a pivot point where a consensus within the foreign-policy establishment, let alone in the country at large, is no longer possible on fundamental issues.
America’s isolationist sentiments, which ruled the country from its founding until WWI and again until the rise of fascism, may be ascendant, even in Washington, where liberal internationalism has held sway since the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
Of course, America may just be oscillating, as it did after the Vietnam War. Obama’s recoil from American hegemony, part of the gospel of the Sanders Left and echoed by many Tea Party Republicans and Donald Trump, may not prove lasting.
A great challenge, more menacing than 9/11, might push the pendulum towards a willingness to endorse the regular use of force, including war, as an indispensible part of protecting our national interests and even our “free-loading” allies. As with Reagan, a future president and Congress could decide that we will not balance the budget and reduce the debt by diminishing the country’s capacity to fight.
It’s worth doing a tour d’horizon of Obama’s foreign accomplishments to get a grasp of how he has changed American expectations. We should start with the Iranian nuclear deal, the achievement the president is most proud of.
As Obama has often said, it will likely make or break his foreign-policy legacy.
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