Lanhee Chen – President Obama’s top 10 foreign policy failures


If you’re interested in digging deeper into President Obama’s record of foreign policy failures, read my latest policy memo. It explains ten of President Obama’s broken promises and missteps on foreign policy and national security.


Lanhee Chen, Ph.D.
Policy Director
Romney for President, Inc.

Romney Memo


To:            Interested Parties

From:        Lanhee Chen, Ph.D., Policy Director

Re:            The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama

To View This Memo Online, Click Here: 

President Obama’s failure on the economy has been so severe that it has overshadowed his manifold failures on foreign policy and national security. An inventory of his record shows that by nearly all measures, President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago. This memorandum explains ten of President Obama’s broken promises and missteps on foreign policy and national security. It is a failed record that no amount of bluster in Charlotte can mask.

Failure #1: No Results In Slowing Or Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Today, Iran is on the cusp of nuclear weapons capability. Such a capability in the hands of the world’s top terrorist sponsoring state poses the greatest threat facing the United States and our friends and allies, and it risks sparking a nuclear arms race across the Middle East.

Despite promising to “do everything in his power” to stop Iran, four years of President Obama’s irresolute policies have failed to slow the progress of Iran’s program. In fact, that progress has sped up:

  • Fastest Rate Of Enrichment Ever. In 2009, Iran’s enrichment rate of low-enriched uranium was 56 kilograms per month.  That jumped to 116 kilograms per month from November 2011 to February 2012. The enrichment rate now stands at 158 kilograms per month, the fastest rate ever.[1]
  • More Spinning Centrifuges. The total number of spinning centrifuges has gone from 3,936 to 10,477 during Obama’s term. The growth rate of spinning centrifuges went from 112 centrifuges per month before Obama came into office to 152 centrifuges per month during his term.[2]
  • Fordow Underground Enrichment Facility Nearing Completion. The fortified underground facility is 70 percent complete. The number of centrifuges installed has gone from 1,064 in May to 2,140 today. The facility’s limit is 3,000 centrifuges.[3]

The Iranian program has gotten to this point because President Obama has squandered all credibility with the ayatollahs:

  • A Failed Engagement Policy. President Obama offered the ayatollahs “no preconditions” talks, which were rebuffed. The latest round of multilateral talks has produced no results.
  • Refrained From Supporting The Green Movement. When asked during a press conference, President Obama shamefully refused to voice support for Iranian dissidents in 2009 as they were being killed in the streets, saying he did not want to “meddle” in Iran’s affairs.
  • A Weak Sanctions Policy. President Obama opposed and sought to water down crippling sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank until he was forced into them by Congress and our European partners.[4] He then undermined those sanctions by issuing waivers to 20 of the top importers of Iranian oil, including China.[5]
  • Abandoned Missile Defense. He abandoned a European missile defense system meant to protect against Iranian missiles.
  • Undermined The Credibility Of The Military Option. His administration has given the Iranians no reason to believe it is serious about a military option. The administration has repeatedly talked down the effectiveness and advisability of the military option, and seems to have devoted more energy toward preventing an Israeli strike on Iran than toward preventing an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Obama officials leaked that the administration has focused its efforts on explaining to Israel “the dangers of an Israeli attack” on Iran and has attempted to “make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[6] And the President himself, after boldly stating to AIPAC that the United States “has Israel’s back,” changed his tune two days later by saying his statement was “not a military doctrine.”

In the face of such irresolution, the ayatollahs are pressing forward toward nuclear weapons capability without fear of repercussion because they do not believe we are serious.

Failure #2: Endangering Our Mission In Afghanistan And Weakening Our Relationship With Pakistan

The killing of Osama bin Laden was a landmark in the war on terror for which President Obama deserves credit. However, the President has made numerous unwise and seemingly politically motivated decisions in Afghanistan that have made it harder to complete our mission of transitioning to an Afghan Army that can defend Afghanistan on its own and ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a launching pad for terror like it was on 9/11.

President Obama has convinced all parties—both our partners and our enemies—that his objective is to leave Afghanistan by a date certain, regardless of the conditions on the ground. This message has led our Afghan and Pakistani partners to doubt our resolve and hedge their bets rather than fully cooperate with us. And this message has encouraged the Taliban to believe that they can wait us out.

President Obama’s missteps include:

  • Undermining The Surge. After a protracted deliberation process, President Obama in December 2009 announced a “surge” of 30,000 troops. But in the very same speech, he put forward an 18-month timetable to begin withdrawal, undermining the surge before it began.
  • Disregarding The Advice Of Military Commanders. President Obama only provided 30,000 surge troops, rather than the 40,000 requested. He is withdrawing those 30,000 surge troops by the end of September 2012, rather than keeping them through the “fighting season” to solidify our gains as the commanders recommended. General David Petraeus and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testified before Congress that this withdrawal schedule was “more aggressive”[7] than their recommendation and that it would “incur more risk” to the mission.[8]
  • Failing To Ensure A Clean Afghan Election. The 2009 Afghan presidential election was plagued by irregularities that have undermined the authority of President Hamid Karzai among the Afghan population. President Obama’s lack of leadership to ensure free, fair, and legitimate elections at the time has greatly undermined our mission. It is immensely more difficult to defeat an insurgency if the government does not enjoy the full confidence of the population.
  • Unwise Negotiations With The Taliban. President Obama has initiated negotiations with the Taliban, at times sidelining our Afghan partners from the talks. He has done so from a position of weakness in which the Taliban know that surge troops will leave by a date certain, are aware of the end-of-2014 transition timeline, and are still killing our troops. They know President Obama wants a deal more than they do. In effect, President Obama is negotiating our retreat and emboldening the Taliban.
  • Amidst President Obama’s mistakes, relations with our Afghan partners as well as with Pakistani authorities have frayed.  Relations between President Obama and President Karzai are strained, leading the Afghan president to frequently criticize the American troop presence. A senior Obama Administration official recently called the U.S.-Pakistani relationship—which has always been complicated—“the worst it has ever been.”[9] A number of factors contribute to this state of affairs, but the chief factor is the lack of resolute leadership from President Obama.

Failure #3: “Unconscionable” Leaks Of Classified Counterterror Information From The White House That Have Been “Devastating”

The Obama White House has released a torrent of leaks of classified counterterror information that has compromised our national security by revealing covert sources and methods. The pace of the leaks quickened as the November election drew nearer, raising the question of whether they were politically motivated. But whether the leaks were politically motivated and intentional or the result of bad management and sloppiness in neither here nor there.  Either case is unacceptable and injurious to the intelligence operatives and uniformed men and women in the field.

Criticism of the leaks has been bipartisan:

  • John Brennan, President Obama’s own counterterror chief and Deputy National Security Adviser, has called the leaks “unconscionable,” “damaging,” and “devastating.” [10]
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has criticized the leaks and stated that they are coming from the White House. She said, “Each disclosure puts American lives at risk, makes it more difficult to recruit assets, strains the trust of our partners, and threatens imminent and irreparable damage to our national security in the face of urgent and rapidly adapting threats worldwide.” [11]

Despite the damage done, President Obama has refused to support the appointment of a special counsel to investigate these leaks and hold those responsible accountable. The special counsel mechanism is designed for just such circumstances where the impartiality of normal prosecutors may be compromised because someone in the high chain of command in the White House may be implicated.

The damaging leaks include:

  • Operational details about the Osama Bin Laden raid.
  • Existence of a Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in finding Bin Laden and who was later arrested and jailed in Pakistan.
  • Revelation of a covert joint U.S.-Israeli cyber operation to undermine Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
  • The existence of a double-agent who was key to unraveling the second underwear bomb.
  • The White House’s process for determining the targets of drone strikes.

Failure #4: “Devastating” Defense Cuts That Will Cede Our Status As A “Global Power”

Over his term in office, President Obama has proposed and instituted massive cuts to the defense budget driven by a desire to protect domestic spending rather than any conception of the national security strategy.

  • Initial Cut Of $78 Billion. In early 2011, the White House commandeered $78 billion in defense budget efficiencies identified by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and put it toward domestic spending. Secretary Gates had expected to reinvest those dollars back into the force.
  • Announcement of $400 Billion In Cuts. In April 2011, President Obama—after giving senior military leaders less than 24 hours’ notice—called for an additional $400 billion in defense cuts. In that same speech, he announced the beginning of a strategy review to figure out how to bend the national security strategy to the pre-determined budget cut, putting the budget number before our strategic planning.
  • Nearly $1 Trillion In Cuts. President Obama is now responsible for nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts over the next ten years that his own Defense Secretary has called “devastating”[12] and that his own Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said would result in America abandoning its status as “a global power.” [13] These cuts result from the Budget Control Act (BCA) that President Obama signed in August 2011 and that Mitt Romney opposed precisely because it cut defense and raised the Sword of Damocles over the defense budget in the form of a $500 billion sequester of defense programs. Since the BCA’s passage, President Obama showed no leadership in failing to steer the “super committee” toward an acceptable plan to reduce the budget, has offered no plan to stave off the sequester, and has threatened to veto every attempt to implement the House-passed budget, which stands as the only serious proposal to fix the sequester. In short, the Commander in Chief is holding our national security and our commitment to veterans hostage to his agenda of tax increases.

This is a president who has exploded our federal budget and national debt to unprecedented levels. And the only program he is all too willing to cut is our military. His policy of unilateral disarmament has sent a message of weakness abroad, leads our friends to question our staying power, and emboldens our adversaries.

Failure #5: A Damaged Relationship With Israel And A Moribund Peace Process

Despite promising as a candidate to advance the Peace Process, President Obama’s actions have halted the Peace Process and greatly damaged the cherished relationship between the United States and Israel. High-level talks have not been held since late 2010.

In his first year in office, President Obama explicitly stated he would seek to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel in order to earn more “credibility with the Arab states.”[14] He has implemented that strategy by:

  • Demanding A Full Settlement Freeze As A Precondition To Talks. This action unilaterally upped the ante on direct talks and frustrated them. According to Mahmoud Abbas, this was a precondition that even the Palestinians had not previously requested. Abbas stated, ““It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump.”[15]
  • Calling For Negotiations To Start With The 1967 Lines. Setting the indefensible 1967 lines as the starting point for talks was a new precondition that shocked the Israelis and drew a strong rebuke from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
  • Deriding Prime Minister Netanyahu. President Obama was caught on a hot mic joining with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in deriding Prime Minister Netanyahu. “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, who responded, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you.”[16]
  • Seeking To Fund A U.N. Body That Has Recognized A Palestinian State. The administration has set as official policy the restoration of $79 million in funding to UNESCO, despite that U.N. body having recognized a Palestinian state apart from a final negotiated deal.[17] This would contravene a federal law that prohibits taxpayer dollars for any entity that admits the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign state and would necessitate overturning that law.

This strategy of distancing the United States from Israel has utterly failed. First, on its own terms, it failed to gain the credibility with Arab states Obama sought as polls indicate that the people of major Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan hold lower opinions of the United States now than at the end of the Bush Administration.[18] More broadly, it has damaged our credibility not just with our ally Israel, but with other partners that now question whether the United States will stand with them in the future.

Failure #6: No Coherent Policy To Stem The Humanitarian And Strategic Disaster In Syria

President Obama has implemented no coherent policy to shape events in this vital region, wasting over a year and a half as the situation has grown worse and options are being foreclosed. Some 20,000 people have been killed, the region is in turmoil, malign powers and actors have greater influence over the situation than the United States does, and Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons are at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

President Obama’s policy has been marked by confusion, delay, and paralysis. At the start of the uprising as civilians were being killed, the Obama Administration called Bashar al-Assad a “reformer” and then waited months before acknowledging that he had to go. President Obama then outsourced U.S. policy to the United Nations, where Russia thwarted numerous Security Council resolutions on Syria. Further, he deferred to a U.N. transition process that not only failed but also served to grant Assad more time to slaughter his own people.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran have funneled arms and assistance to the Assad regime while Al Qaeda and other extremist actors filled the vacuum left by President Obama’s refusal to forthrightly lead an effort to identify, organize, and arm the responsible members of the opposition.

Criticism of Obama’s Syria policy does not only come from Republicans, but from within President Obama’s own party:

  • Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for the consideration of more assertive U.S. measures, including arming opposition elements.[19]
  • Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has called for more forthright U.S. leadership.[20]
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department Director of Policy Planning in the Obama Administration, has criticized President Obama’s approach and is calling for arming opposition members.[21]

When America doesn’t lead, instability and danger grow. That is a bipartisan consensus on Syria, and President Obama is out of step with it.

Failure #7: A “Reset” With Russia That Has Compromised U.S. Interests & Values

Mere months after Russia invaded its neighbor Georgia, the Obama Administration came into office vowing to “reset” relations with Russia, saying it would lead to more cooperation on Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan. That reset has garnered little improvement in our relationship with Russia and no new meaningful cooperation.

Among President Obama’s concessions to Russia were:

  • Abandoning A European Missile Defense System. The unilateral abandonment of a missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and completed by 2013 was a sop to Russia, which had sought to intimidate our allies and discourage them from agreeing to the system in the first place. They agreed to it despite the pressure. To add insult to injury, he announced his decision on September 17, 2009—the 70th anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland.
  • New START. President Obama’s signing of the New START treaty compromised U.S. interests in two respects. First, it linked U.S. missile defense systems to reductions in our nations’ respective nuclear arsenals. This linkage jeopardizes our ability to deploy missile defense systems. Second, the limits it sets on the number of Russian launchers and warheads were above what Russia possessed in its nuclear arsenal at the time.[22] In other words, New START gave Russia room to expand its arsenal while requiring the United States to reduce its arsenal.
  • “Flexibility” After The Election. In a hot mic moment, President Obama promised Russia’s leaders even more “flexibility” on missile defense and other issues in exchange for more “space” prior to the November election. It was a telling moment of weakness, one that has shaken our allies and raised the persistent question of what President Obama is planning to do post-election that he can’t tell the American people now.
  • Kid Gloves For Russia’s Human Rights and Democracy Problems. President Obama has soft-pedaled Russia’s backsliding on democracy and human rights. The Obama Administration has opposed the Magnitsky Bill that would sanction human rights abusers in Russia, preferring to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations free from any new human rights measures. President Obama even congratulated Vladimir Putin in a phone call from Air Force One on winning a corrupt election.

In return for these concessions, Russia has given little save for obstruction at the U.N., support for rogue regimes, and bellicose behavior.

  • Obstruction On Syria. Three times, Russia has wielded its veto power along with China to block U.N. Security Council Resolutions aimed at stopping the violence in Syria and sanctioning the Assad regime.
  • Arms To Syrian Regime. Russia has supplied arms to the Syrian Army during its brutal crackdown on Syrian civilians.
  • Obstruction On Iran. Russia succeeded in watering down a 2010 set of U.N. sanctions on Iran, preventing the inclusion of sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. Since that time, Russia has successful blocked binding U.N. sanctions on the Central Bank and has criticized individual nations’ sanctions on the Central Bank, calling such efforts “unacceptable.”
  • Push To Close U.S. Airbase Vital To Mission In Afghanistan. Instead of helping American efforts in Afghanistan, Russia urged Kyrgyzstan to close down a U.S. military base that is a vital transit point for troops and supplies moving in and out of Afghanistan. It is the only such transit base the United States has in Central Asia.[23]
  • Cozying To Chávez. Closer relations between Moscow and Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, including new deals on nuclear power cooperation, increased arms sales, and a $4 billion loan agreement.
  • Continued Abuses Of Political And Human Rights. Putin’s re-election as President came on the wings of a corrupt election. And he has continued to consolidate power, sending dissidents and even punk rockers who dare criticize him to jail on trumped up charges.
  • Return Of Cold War Rhetoric. Since announcing plans to resume his former office, Putin has employed the harshest anti-American rhetoric seen since the Cold War and has stepped up harassment of U.S. officials on Russia soil.

Failure #8: Emboldening The Castros, Chávez & Their Cohorts In Latin America

President Obama has diminished respect for the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean. He has put strain on relationships with friendly nations while appeasing or downplaying the threat from those leaders who oppose our interests.

  • Delay In Approving Trade Agreements. President Obama waited three years before submitting to Congress trade agreements with our partners Colombia and Panama—agreements signed by the previous administration — for fear of angering the union bosses to whom he owes political loyalty. President Obama has not sought to reach any new trade agreements in the region, despite there being strong trading potential and natural connections between Latin America and the Latino business community in the United States.
  • Appeasement Of The Castro Regime. While he dragged his feet on trade agreements with our friends, President Obama moved quickly to relax travel and remittance restrictions on Cuba mere months into his term while demanding nothing in return that would offer the Cuban people their long-denied freedom. The Cuban regime responded that same year by jailing American citizen and USAID contractor Alan Gross, who remains imprisoned to this day. The Castros continue to oppress their own people and imprison pro-democracy dissidents.
  • Failing To Recognize The Threat Posed By Hugo Chávez. President Obama stated, “But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chávez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.” This statement underplayed the strategic threat posed by Chávez and goes a long way in explaining the President’s failure to stand resolutely for democracy and economic opportunity in Latin America. Chávez is leading a virulently anti-American “Bolivarian” movement across Latin America that seeks to undermine institutions of democratic governance. The Bolivarian movement threatens U.S. allies such as Colombia, has interfered with regional cooperation on key issues such as illicit drugs and counterterrorism, has provided safe haven for drug traffickers, has encouraged regional terrorist organizations, and has invited Iran and foreign terrorist organizations like Hezbollah into the region.

Failure #9: Getting Beaten Badly By Competitors On Trade

President Obama has sat on the sidelines while our major trading competitors have moved aggressively to negotiate new trade agreements. This will greatly compromise our economy for the future.

The last trade agreement signed by the United States — the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement — was negotiated by President Bush and signed in 2007. Since then, Chinese and EU leaders have signed or are in negotiations for 46 different trade agreements. The European Union has successfully signed agreements with nine countries and pursued negotiations with eighteen others.[24] China, for its part, has signed agreements with four countries and pursued negotiations with fifteen others.[25] In August 2011, a group of Asian nations – including many with whom President Obama has stalled progress on trade – announced their goal to create an economic bloc that would include China but not the United States.

How many trade agreements has Obama signed? Zero.

How many trade agreement negotiations has he initiated? Zero, again.

And the three trade agreements he submitted to Congress for approval were all initially negotiated and signed by President Bush. He waited three years before submitting those agreements for approval for fear of angering union bosses, leaving our partners South Korea, Colombia, and Panama twisting in the trade winds.

Failure #10: Putting Our Interests At Risk By Mismanaging The Transition In Iraq

President Obama spins the withdrawal of troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 as a supposed “promise kept.” But in truth he is masking a failure to reach a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was the centerpiece of the administration’s policy of moving to a smaller training and advisory force that would have solidified progress in Iraq:

  • Both of President Obama’s Defense Secretaries recommended a transition force to assist in logistics, intelligence, and other support matters, explaining that such a force was in our “mutual interest.”[26]
  • His top military commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, made the same recommendation.[28]
  • Iraqi governmental leaders expressed willingness to conclude a new SOFA.[29]
  • Administration officials worked for months in 2011 to forge a SOFA and overcome the legal immunity issue that was a sticking point with the Iraqis, just as it had been in 2008 when the first SOFA was concluded.

But despite the clear need for a SOFA, President Obama fumbled the negotiation. When a recommendation for an anemic transition force of only a few thousand was leaked, it undermined negotiations by signaling to members of the Iraqi legislature that the United States was not serious about an adequate presence in Iraq to complete the transition. That took away any incentive for Iraqi legislators to take a political risk and vote in favor a new SOFA. President Obama did little to persuade them otherwise.[30] And it seems the Obama Administration resisted feasible methods to work around the troop immunity issue.[31]

The day after the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops, Iraq’s Prime Minister took worrying actions to consolidate power. He leveled terrorism charges against the Sunni Vice President, causing the Vice President to flee the capital and sparking a political crisis that continues to this day. Iraq still faces worrying insurgent attacks. And the encroachment of Iranian influence in Iraq is a threat to our interests in the region.

America has little leverage to pushback on these counterproductive developments due to President Obama’s failures. We have no military training presence to work closely and influence the Iraqi authorities. And we have no authoritative diplomatic voice with the mandate of the President since President Obama has failed to install a new U.S. ambassador in Baghdad since the last ambassador left in June.

Iraq is a nation in the heart of a strategically vital region where we spent much precious blood and treasure to protect our security and ensure liberty. But President Obama has irresponsibly vacated the field. As a result, there are deep concerns that the gains so dearly won by our uniformed men and women will be lost.


About Nathan Hammond

I'm very savvy and very dynamic. Professionally: Web development, internet marketing, social media optimization, search engine optimization. I work remotely which makes things real nice. Free time: rafting, mainly. If I had it my way I'd never not be on a river. Outside of that, I'm exploring, learning and partying.
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One Response to Lanhee Chen – President Obama’s top 10 foreign policy failures

  1. Reblogged this on Election 2012 Coverage and commented:
    President Obama doesn’t have a clue what he is doing in the Middle East.

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