A summit last week between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provided a useful measure of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy success, and there is very little of it to be found.
Obama’s bedrock idea was that most of America’s woes abroad were self-inflicted. We had been arrogant, deaf, and belligerent—doubly so under the presidency of George W. Bush—and had alienated the world at large. Obama, a man of rare charm and oratorical gifts, a man with roots in Africa and Asia, as well as Europe, and a political thinker who had spent his entire career as a critic of the United States, was perfectly suited to set all this right. He made a point at the outset of his term of apologizing far and wide for past U.S. behavior and of proffering an outstretched hand to all, especially those governments with which America had been at odds. He even mothballed America’s policy, consistent since the Carter years, of promoting human rights and democracy, apparently believing that our advocacy appeared supercilious and stood in the way of comity with the rulers of many states.