Nominations for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize closed just 11 days after Barack Obama assumed the presidency. President Obama was chosen unanimously, over 204 other nominees, on October 5, just nine months after his election.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Obama expressed surprise, even skepticism over his selection.
“…I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated,” Obama said in his acceptance speech. “In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage.”
“But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars,” he continued.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that President Obama’s “labors on the world stage” were unable to live up to the hopes of the Nobel Committee. Indeed, they failed to live up to the lofty standard expressed by Mr. Obama himself. Michael E. O’Hanlon wrote for the Brookings Institute in 2015:
Obama’s presidency will not go down as a hugely positive watershed period in American foreign policy. He ran for election in 2007 and 2008 promising to mend the West’s breach with the Islamic world, repair the nation’s image abroad, reset relations with Russia, move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, avoid “stupid wars” while winning the “right war,” combat climate change, and do all of this with a post-partisan style of leadership that brought Americans themselves together in the process. He ran for reelection in 2012 with the additional pledges of ending the nation’s wars and completing the decimation of al Qaeda. Six years into his presidency, almost none of these lofty aspirations has been achieved.
Eight years in, things have arguably gotten worse. Much worse.
Syria is perhaps the biggest pockmark on Obama’s foreign policy legacy. It began with Obama drawing, and then subsequently erasing, a redline on the Assad regime’s use of biological weapons, a move that undermined his global standing.
“[T]he reversal of policy in September 2013 on a clearly articulate principle sent shivers from Seoul to Jerusalem to Tallinn — and may well have encouraged America’s adversaries, including Russia, to test Obama further,” writes David Greenberg in Foreign Policy. [Putin’s continued aggressions] have shattered any claims that Obama showed sufficient resolve against a formidable, confident and completely immoral rival for geopolitical influence.”
The result has been disastrous.
Turkey, one of the Middle East’s few geopolitical powers, has been moving away from its transatlantic alliance with Europe and the United States and gravitating toward Russia.
“For Erdogan, the United States has become irrelevant, because in the Middle East actions count more than rhetoric and from his perspective, Washington was more talk than action,” Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament who now works for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told the Washington Post.
And Russia, clearly seeking to displace the United State’s as the region’s preeminent power, is happy to let the United States sit back and spin its wheels.
“It is a statement of fact, the Russian-Iran-Turkey troika today has shown how efficient it is through practical action,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the U.S.-led International Syria Support Group failed to accomplish much of anything. “We believe the best format is one in which decisions are taken and carried out.”
Those actions come in the form of a cease fire in Syria that was agreed to without the United States being in the room.
Sadly, that is just one stain on a legacy filled with disastrous non-intervention and appeasement in places like Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, where decisions seemed to be made based on promises and politics rather than intelligence and strategy. The result is a shift in regional power that eliminates the leverage necessary to ensure the success of diplomacy.
“Diplomacy that diverges from reality is seldom successful,” writes Michael Rubin for AEI. “Nor does diplomacy absent leverage ever work with adversaries or rogue regimes.”
It’s a lesson that President Obama should have learned, perhaps before being handed the Nobel Peace Prize.