Jonah Goldberg

I think we all know what Barack Obama's foreign policy strategy coming into office was.

Step 1: Be Barack Obama (and not George W. Bush).

Step 2: ????

Step 3: World peace!

(With apologies to "South Park.")

As a candidate, Obama held a huge campaign rally in, of all places, Berlin, touting his bona fides as a citizen of the world. The crowds went wild, as he talked at length about a world without walls (you had to be there). As president, in his first major speech abroad, Obama suggested to a Cairo audience that the fact America elected him was all the proof anyone should need that America had turned the page.

It all seems very strange now in retrospect, but in his defense, you can understand how seductive this notion must have been. The whole world -- at least the parts of it that Obama listens to -- was telling him that replacing George W. Bush with Barack Obama was just the ticket for what ailed the planet. The fervor was all so detached from facts on the ground that the Nobel Committee even gave Obama a Peace Prize for the stuff they were sure he was going to do, eventually. (One clue that Obama's cult of personality didn't actually translate into tangible results on the world stage should have been his failure to win the 2016 Olympics for his hometown of Chicago, despite being the first president to personally lobby for it.)

The problem, of course, is that Obama never had a Plan B. He never really thought he'd need one, and besides, he never much cared about foreign policy. Particularly in his first term, his top priority was to keep international problems from distracting his domestic agenda. He ordered the surge in Afghanistan but then went silent about that war for years. He passive-aggressively let a status of forces agreement with Iraq evaporate. Even his controversial policies -- targeted killing, drones, etc. -- were intended to turn the war on terrorism into a no-drama technocratic affair out of the headlines.

And the killing of Osama Bin Laden, his greatest foreign policy accomplishment (I'm using "his" advisedly), was almost immediately translated into an argument about domestic priorities.

"We obviously think that if there is a takeaway from it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained in the immediate aftermath of bin Laden's assassination, "it is the resolve [Obama] has, the focus he brings to bear on long-term objectives, that he keeps pushing to get it done. On immigration reform he keeps pushing ..." Blah, blah, blah. For a verbal pirouette, Carney's segue had all the subtlety of Chris Farley in a tutu.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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