The world needs American leadership. In the interwar years, we saw that the enemies of freedom advance when the great liberal and democratic powers of the day failed to lead. We saw it again in the dark years of the Cold War under President Carter. The alternative to an America willing and able to lead is not a paradise of peace through engagement. It is a world where the undemocratic, the unsatisfied, and the illiberal powers of the world advance at the expense of American ideals, American interests, and America’s allies.
During President Obama’s first year in office, he failed almost completely to exercise meaningful leadership in the world. His Nobel Peace Prize was proof enough of this: it was awarded not for any substantive achievement, but because the Committee hoped he might do something in the future. The President generously gave himself a B+ rating on Oprah Winfrey’s Christmas Special, but even his most fervent supporters among Sweden’s socialists could not bring themselves to give him more than an incomplete.
The President did make one decision that does him credit: in December, he recommitted the U.S. to the war in Afghanistan, and promised to reinforce the U.S. troop commitment there. But even this decision was taken with agonizing slowness and, just as bad, without any reference to America’s allies who were fighting and dying alongside U.S. troops. And it came with such obvious reluctance, and with so many possible exit ramps, that it signals the likelihood of more hesitations in his second year in office.
The President’s other leadership initiatives have all fallen flat, or proven counterproductive. He sought to hit the reset button with Russia: the result is weakened U.S. missile defenses and more Russian threats. He tried to take the lead in the Copenhagen conference: the conference failure, though good for the U.S. economy and its sovereignty, was a humiliation. He reached out to Iran, with his signature policy of engagement: they responded with missile tests, insults, and the beating, torture, and murder of dissidents and protesters.
In President Obama, this nation elected a man who is uncomfortable with the concept of American exceptionalism, who embarked on an embarrassing ‘apology tour’ of Europe, the Middle East, and the United Nations, and who spent much of his first year in office blaming his predecessor for all of the problems that confront him. Casting blame is politically convenient, but it is not leadership. The time has come for the President to recognize that, if he does not speak and lead for freedom, the enemies of freedom will take note – and take advantage.
The Foundry will be featuring analysis of President Obama’s first year in office throughout the week.