After I wrote my reaction to Obama’s first hundred days, two people wrote me privately to chide me for my high assessment of President Obama. “We are only 100 days in,” they both said, in essence. “It is much to soon to call Obama’s foreign policy ‘Absolutely brilliant.’”
Nonetheless, the fact remains: Obama’s foreign policy has been absolutely brilliant.
Like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama is lucky enough to take office after a Bush. The Bush family is not just one of the most successful political families in American history. More importantly, both Presidents Bush had administrations which oversaw dramatic and uncertain times: George H.W. Bush oversaw the fall of the Soviet Union and the creation of a new world order, George W. Bush orchestrated the implosion of Iraq and gave China the breathing space needed to become a major power.
Like Bill Clinton, Barack Obaama only needs not to screw up to reap the dividends that grow from investments made by an early President Bush. Bill Clinton, by not screwing up, saw the creation of NAFTA and the WTO. Bill Clinton will be remembered as an ‘institution builder,’ less because of his own ability or interests, and more because of his ability to get out of the way while mechanisms put in place by a predecessor naturally play out.
While Bill Clinton was lucky enough to inherit a world shaped by George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama is lucky enough to take over after President Bush. Our brilliant and successful takedown of Saddam Hussein, combined with our painful but successful build-up of a new Iraq, demonstrated our absolute conventional military supremacy and the weakness of our unconventional troops. The appropriate response is to buy less F-22s (which are overkill against any conventional opponent, and completely worthless against unconventional opponents) and invest more in soldiers and veterans. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is just the man to do that. Bush named him and got him confirmed. Obama was smart enough not to fire him.
Another area where Obama is lucky is the diplomatic pressure Bush used to encourage the election of Taiwanese President Ma Yingjeou (KMT – Taipei). Bush’s hard work has resulted in Chinese and Taiwanese that are evaporating the prospect of great power war by the day. Obama merely needs to not screw up foreign policy, and the world becomes dramatically safer for American lives and American power.
Obama’s great screw-up was naming Tim Geithner to Treasury.
Obama has avoided screwing up the fantastic trends that Bush set in motion. And because of the brilliance of Bush’s foreign policy, those benefits are compounding rapidly.
Good job, President Obama.
So far, your foreign policy has been absolutely brilliant.