This past year was a tough one for President Obama on a number of fronts. But it was particularly difficult internationally, as the president seemed to lurch from one crisis to the next without an apparent cohesive strategy, hurting America’s reputation and interests.
There were some highlights in international affairs – Secretary of State John Kerry restarting the Israel-Palestine peace process being the brightest. But 2013 is likely to be remembered more for mistakes than victories.
And boy, there a lot of mistakes. It seemed President Obama was scrambling from one crisis to the next. Some of them were outside of Obama’s control. But the president often was at the wrong end of international incidents because of his own doing.
Here are 10 examples of the biggest foreign policy blunders of the last year.
1. The Edward Snowden debacle. Everything about the Snowden fiasco was a disaster. He received security clearance through a process that is corrupt and broken. American authorities couldn’t nab him in Hong Kong because they misspelled his name. Obama was helpless to stop Snowden when he went to Moscow. Now, he’s disappeared into Russia, and is peddling his secrets to Brazil in exchange for his cooperation into their investigation of NSA activities.
Speaking of Russia…
2. Vladimir Putin constantly poked the United States in the eye. It’s bad enough that Putin gave Snowden asylum, despite formal requests from the White House to ship the NSA leaker home. Putin was also an obstacle during the Syria chemical weapon crisis, blocking U.S. efforts to impose sanctions. Putin eventually got his way when the United States agreed to forgo military force and make a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, the Russian president continues to rule his country with an iron fist, suppressing human rights and eliminating political opponents.
3. The Syria crisis. The credibility of the United States was severely damaged when Obama ignored his own red line and allowed Assad to use chemical weapons without military intervention. The Syrian president managed to escape severe punishment by agreeing to give up his chemical weapons. But he’s still free to slaughter his own people, just as he slaughtered U.S. credibility.
4. The Afghanistan mess. There’s still no long-term security agreement in place. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is openly hostile to the United States. American troops continue to die there – six were killed this week – and billions of dollars continues to disappear due to corruption and Pentagon mismanagement. Many now expect the same problems that plagued the country prior to 2001 to return as soon as U.S. troops leave.
5. Iraq is falling apart. We broke it, but we never bought it. Now, chaos reigns in Iraq, with different factions fighting for control of the country. And despite pleas from Iraqi leaders for assistance, the United States refused to get involved. Time will tell if it’s a decision U.S. officials later regret, as there are growing fears that the country could become a safe haven for terrorists.
6. Relations with Middle East allies are crumbling. Saudi Arabian officials have hinted that they no longer trust Obama. Israel is furious over the White House’s willingness to deal with Iran without demanding it ends its nuclear weapons program. They’re also both upset about the continuing quagmire in Iraq, and angry that the U.S. didn’t intervene in Syria. The United States doesn’t have a lot of friends in the Middle East. It’s alienate the few it has.
7. The Germany spy scandal. Snowden’s revelations damaged U.S. relations with man of its allies, but no one was more upset than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She and other Germans were furious when documents leaked by Snowden showed that the NSA was monitoring her cell phone, often from the U.S. embassy in Berlin, just minutes away from her office. The U.S. – Germany relationship is not as important as it once was, but if nothing else, trust between partner was compromised. And it made Obama, who was once wildly popular in Germany, a disappointment to many Germans.
8. The Egyptian coup. The United States stood by powerless to stop a military coup that deposed Mohammed Morsi, who was backed by Washington. Now the military is firmly in charge, and a country that was once an American ally faces an uncertain future.
9. Samantha Power’s very bad year. Power made her name writing about genocide in Rwanda, arguing that the United States must act to stop mass killings whenever they occurred. Many believed her appointment to the ambassador to the United Nations post would give her a pedestal to promote these views. Yet she’s had to stand by as mass killings occurred in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic and Egypt. Now, her voice is rarely heard in international policy discussions.
10. Iranian nuclear negotiations. Talks with Iran over it’s nuclear weapon program could still turn around, but things are not looking good. The initial deal with Tehran that would require it to suspend, not eliminate, its nuclear program infuriated the Israelis and skeptical lawmakers. Now, these lawmakers are considering new sanctions against Iran that could scuttle the deal all together.
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