Who was the least successful foreign policy president?

White House/Pete Souza

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, April 13, 2010.

Article Highlights

  • For worst foreign policy president, it is always tempting to crown Jimmy Carter. @DPletka

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  • Our foreign policy is inextricable from our economy. @DPletka

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  • The road chosen in the coming election will do a great deal to set our nation on its future path. @DPletka

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For worst, it is always tempting to crown Jimmy Carter, not least because he has become an intense version of his self-loathing, anti-democratic, anti-Israel presidency. But Carter did not change the world and despite his efforts, he didn’t change America either. That privilege falls to Barack Obama.

On the face of it, Obama has not seemed the worst of America’s foreign policy presidents. He initially sought to win the war in Afghanistan; he successfully honed anti-terrorism policies and capitalized on his predecessor’s interrogation strategies to find and order Osama bin Laden killed. These are important accomplishments, and notwithstanding his unattractive credit-grabbing, to be lauded.

But our foreign policy is inextricable from our economy; those who suggest that America cannot afford greatness are looking to our FY2012 $1.16 trillion dollar deficit; our planned trillion dollar cuts in military spending, our crippling debt to China and to the concurrent rise of important challenges to American power that have gone unchecked.

Once again, America is at a crossroads. The urgency of the post-9/11 era has passed and the fight against Islamist extremists has lost its appeal.  China is rising and seeks to dominate the Pacific. Europe itself can no longer project power and is consumed by the Euro fiasco. And that Reagan era vision – embraced by every President since – is at risk. Are we exceptional in our commitment to expanding liberty? Rolling back threats to our allies? Sharing our blessings? Or will we turn inward, our clarion call being “nation building here at home”?

The road chosen in the coming election will do a great deal to set our nation on its future path. Will we be a nation in decline, afraid of confrontation, indifferent to our allies and our values? Or will we be a nation that invests in greatness – not by making subsidized solar panels or government supported cars, but by recognizing that we alone have the power to move the world? If we stay on the path chosen by Barack Obama, we will be a nation in which more Americans enjoy disability payments than get new jobs, in which the percentage of Americans that work will continue to decline; in which entitlements explode and defense withers. That is the Obama legacy, in foreign policy and at home.

 

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About the Author

 

Danielle
Pletka

  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.


    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


     


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