Hillary Clinton and the burden of Obama’s failed foreign policy

Between two undesirable candidates, many voters favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Supremely calculating, she presented herself as the continuation of the Obama administration. Her calculus, apparently was that shre needed his active support in order to bring out the African-American vote and to win.

Consequently, Hillary eschewed criticism if Obama’s policies, and nowhere more so than in the area of foreign policy.

Obama’s foreign policy had, with some exceptions, disastrous consequences. The main exception was in the realm of climate change, where he converted the U.S. failure at Copenhagen into a very significant victory in Paris, even without legally binding limits on carbon emissions that would have required Senate approval.

A second exception, perhaps, was the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal, despite its two major shortcomings: 1) it was adopted in a form that was sold in the U.S. as not legally binding; and 2) it was “delinked” from an Iranian behavior, however egregious, in the region.

Because he was unable to work with the Republicans in the Senate that might enable him to secure Senate approval by a two-thirds majority for an international treaty, and was unable to secure majorities in the Republican-controlled houses for approval in the form of a Congressional-Executive Agreement or law, he proceeded to act unilaterally in the field of foreign affairs.

One of his last actions before the election on November 8 was to abstain on the U.N. General Assembly Resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Devoid of operational impact but highly symbolic in itself, this action smacked of unilateralism, of shoving actions down the throats of his Republican opponents, and probably cost him a significant number of votes among the Cuban-American  community in Florida.

A third exception has been the strategy for defeating ISIS or the so-called Islamic State, by providing advisers and trainers (some 5,000 in Iraq) and air support to help the Iraqi government and its Shia militia allies militarily roll back previous ISIS advances in Iraq, including the taking of Mosul.

This strategy appears to be working. Yet it calls into question the need for the U.S.-Russian military cooperation and sharing of information which Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama pushed so hard, over the apparent objections of the Pentagon and the CIA, until it fell apart following the accidental bombing and killing of 62 Syrian soldiers and the resumption of Russian bombing of Aleppo in the days that ensued.

Beyond these three exceptions, it is hard to find any really important foreign policy successes under Barack Obama, unless you call the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba as a success. The real success would have been a repeal of the embargo with Republican support. That, however, was never a realistic possibility.

The rest of Obama’s foreign policy as largely a failure though of course there were minor successes along the way achieved by the many dedicated men and women who worked on specific issues.

The failures of Obama’s foreign policy, on the other hand, were legion, from the tepid response to Russian military aggression in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine to the failure to halt the war crimes and avoid the deaths of a half a million people in Syria. We have also witnessed  a creeping coup d’état by Tayib Erdowan in Turkey, a NATO member country.



About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.