‘Quarterback’ Obama fumbles foreign policy, still gets the credit

U.S. President Barack Obama's foreign policy is not the unmitigated disaster that characterized the Carter adm …Let a critic be honest. President Obama's foreign policy is not the unmitigated disaster that characterized the Carter administration. We are not watching "America Held Hostage" daily with our diplomats imprisoned in Tehran and efforts to free them feckless — or fatal with the disaster of Desert One.

Instead, Obama has been credited with successes such as winding down the Afghanistan/Iraq wars and "killing Bin Laden."  These successes are akin to football—the quarterback gets the credit for victories, regardless of fumbled snaps, interceptions, or whether it was "team defense" that actually deserved credit.

To be sure, both Iraq/Afghanistan remain in teeter totter balance. In Iraq U.S. inability to reach agreement permitting a residual force for training/security is a clear Obama administration failure. In Afghanistan, what has been obtained thus far in security and stability is at risk—not today (or before the election) but after U.S. combat troops depart in 2014. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama officials rejected U.S. military arguments for more muscular extended presence.

And, indeed, Bin Laden is dead (and "General Motors is alive" to coin a phrase). Obama deserves credit for approving the attack plan. But the painstaking intelligence collection underpinning the decision and the professional SEAL mission execution reflect the unique excellence of U.S. national security efforts.  It was almost embarrassing to compare Obama's self-serving victory announcement with that of "Dubya" Bush when Saddam Hussein was captured. For Obama, it was I, I, I—and I again where Bush spoke of teamwork by intelligence analysts and military.

[ Related: Obama betters Romney on foreign policy ]

Thus it isn't that Obama is wrong, it is more that "he just doesn't get it." Leadership is more than metrosexual GQ styling with resounding rhetoric.  With considerable struggle, he has learned "the words" in foreign affairs but doesn't sense "the music." He seemed to believe that he could improve relations with Moscow with a word ("reset") without appreciating the domestic-economic complexities facing Putin or the continued fears of states only recently liberated from former USSR or Warsaw Pact "iron curtain" control.

He seemed to believe that an apology tour of the Middle East as his administration began would mollify Islamic anger at everything American. In so doing, he left the impression he would lever Israel into concessions for Palestinians. Instead, the result is massive disappointment from these overinflated semi-promises with a United States less popular than during Dubya's regime. Combined with an Israeli leadership blatantly dubious over U.S. security commitment (let alone the ongoing catastrophe in the Middle East/North Africa), it is historic failure.

The reality is that only if we collaborated with Tehran on nuclear weapons to destroy Israel would we momentarily mollify Islamic hatreds—and then they would demand a "final solution" for residual Jews.

Essentially, Obama doesn't viscerally believe in American exceptionalism; Romney does.  Initially when campaigning in 2008, Obama declined to wear a U.S. flag pin and didn't know the number of states.  We will never be his semi-mystical "shining city on a hill." He seems to believe in a gelded America, that cutting the United States "down to size" should be one of his objectives as president. He believes a kinder/gentler America will still be respected and followed.  So he bows to Saudi and Japanese rulers—reversing centuries of American refusal to kowtow to others.

Obama has failed; it is time for new leadership.

It is not that "President Romney" will spin U.S. foreign policy on a 180 degree axis. National foreign policy, sans revolution, is like a supertanker; course correction is incremental. Thus we will not be abandoning alliances such as NATO.  We won't pull out of the UN.  We won't legislate high trade barriers, leave the WTO, or abrogate NAFTA.  But we won't mistake Russia for a friend; we can — and should — share specialized objectives while never forgetting they could destroy our civilization in a day.

Romney will continue to press for human rights—particularly religious freedom, democracy and economic liberty, and protection of minorities.  He will continue to broaden and deepen relations with Canada, building on Beyond the Borders agreements.  Indeed, a "President Romney" would probably mesh personally/philosophically with PM Harper better than rock star Obama has done.

Nor would Romney apologize for U.S. citizens exercising free speech. A soft, turn-the-other-cheek doesn't mollify madness; it encourages perpetrators belief that we are feeble. We have never sought a "war" with Islam, but while it takes two for peace, it takes only one for war—and perhaps war is unavoidable.

David T. Jones is a retired State Department Senior Foreign Service Career Officer and a frequent contributor to American Diplomacy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving for the Army Chief of Staff. He is co-author of Uneasy Neighbor(u)rs, a study of American-Canadian bilateral concerns and has published several hundred articles, columns, and reviews on U.S. - Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy.