President Barack Obama has put more than a few miles on the Air Force One odometer. But travel is no guarantee of foreign policy success. Indeed, Obama is winging his way toward one of the worst foreign policy records compiled by a U.S. president.
Undaunted, Obama has charted an ambitious international itinerary for his last year in office. So far, he has jetted to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.
There are more trips ahead, including this month’s G-7 meeting in Japan, July’s NATO summit in Poland, September’s G-20 meeting in China and November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru.
And he’s still eyeing some history-making add-ons. Lately, for example, he has been signaling that he’d like to take a tour of Tehran.
At first blush, there’s nothing unusual about taking long breaks from the Oval Office during the last year of a presidency. Given the distractions of a national election, little happens in Washington.
This leads lame-duck presidents to feel they have a better chance at making a final mark on foreign affairs rather than on domestic issues. While those in Washington may be focused on winning re-election and getting their party’s standard-bearer into the White House, the rest of the globe remains more than willing to host the head of the world’s most powerful country.
Yet Obama’s end-of-term world tour looks like anything but a victory lap. His recent visit to Saudi Arabia, for example, was more than uncomfortable.
Violence and instability has welled up in the Middle East over the course of his presidency. On every front, conditions are worse than when he took office.
Yet Obama tried to pretend that this has not seriously strained relations with most of America’s friends and allies in the region.
To counter all the bad news, he still trumpets the Iran deal — which looks increasingly insecure. Iran continues long-range missile tests and gripes about not getting enough economic benefits. Meanwhile, the Islamic State remains active and deadly in Syria and Iraq, forcing the White House to up its military commitments to the region.
From the Middle East, it was on to Europe. In Britain, he lectured the country against voting to exit the European Union. That advice won him no friends.
A subsequent poll in Britain found only four percent of respondents thought he offered the advice because “he cares about Britain.”
His future world travels are unlikely to meet greater success. In Japan, for example, he will have to talk around the fact that the trade deal he negotiated — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — stands virtually no chance of being ratified before he leaves office.
At the NATO summit, he will have to keep backing sanctions on Russia. It will be a painful acknowledgment that the much-ballyhooed foreign policy “achievement” of his first term — the Russian reset — has been an abject failure.
Indeed, as the age of Obama winds down, the best our president can hope for is that foreign affairs don’t get appreciably worse.
This administration thought it could bring peace and stability in the world by backing off and giving space to accommodate others. But the Obama doctrine has largely proved a dud. Our foes and competitors have taken every place where he has given — and then they’ve looked for more.
The Cuban regime, for example, has tightened its control over the country since the U.S. liberalized relations. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have rebuffed efforts for a negotiated peace. Meanwhile, China continues to expand its presence in the South China Sea; Russia has digested Crimea and is foraging for more, and North Korea is as angry as ever.
Obama has traveled widely, yet accomplished little. It takes more than a massive carbon footprint to make friends, influence people and advance American interests overseas.
A vice president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s national security and foreign policy research program. Readers may write him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.