Feature

Obama's Report Card

We asked some of the best foreign-policy minds in Washington and beyond to rate the U.S. president's first 100 days in office. The result? 11 As, 16 Bs, 7 Cs, and a D.

The Grades

A+
Stephen Sestanovich

A
Walter Russell Mead
Lawrence Korb
Ricardo Avila
Parag Khanna
Laura Secor

A-
Charles Kupchan
Paul Pillar
Karim Sadjadpour
Jose Manuel Calvo
Marc Lynch

B+
Robert Kagan
Meghan OSullivan
Gianni Riotta
Cristina Manzano
Fawaz A. Gerges
Dmitri Trenin
Michael OHanlon
Ivan Krastev
David Rieff
Stephen Walt

B
Antonio Carlucci
John Mueller

B-
Philip Levy
Suzanne Maloney
William Inboden
Peter Feaver

C+
Dov Zakheim
Christian Brose
Michael Singh
Robert Reich

C
Ted Galen Carpenter
Danielle Pletka

C-
Kori Schake

D
Elliott Abrams

Pass
Dan Twining

Incomplete or None Given
Andrew Bacevich
David J. Kramer
Kenneth Roth
David Rothkopf
Philip Zelikow

Stephen Sestanovich

Grade: A+

Let me explain: So far, it's all for class participation!

New administrations often fail to understand that their real grade depends on how well they solve what I call the second talking-point problem. After you've developed and explained your well thought-out strategy, how do you respond to the governments that say they don't like it at all? Obviously you don't just change course (here, all the complaints one hears that the administration needs a Plan B are off the mark).

You need to make your case -- in both word and deed -- a little more convincingly. Presidents are rarely prepared for this moment by their staffs. A new administration that encounters resistance has to bring to bear new arguments, new resources, new offers that the other guy can't refuse -- or at least can't ignore. Whether we're talking about getting more Europeans into Afghanistan, or mobilizing the Chinese to lean on North Korea, or re-energizing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, or -- the mother of all reset buttons -- turning around the international economy, President Obama doesn't need Plan B so much as he needs Phase Two.

Stephen Sestanovich is a senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Walter Russell Mead

Grade: A

The Obama administration has had a strong 100 days. The transition at the State Department seems to be smoother than usual; the various czars and stars of the high powered team of rivals seem to be keeping their rivalries under control. President Obama's first trips abroad have gone generally well, and overall the administration has managed to set a new tone in American diplomacy. The hard choices, of course, all lie ahead and it is not yet clear whether the new administration's Operation Velvet Glove will get more support from allies and more cooperation from adversaries than the Bush administration's Operation Iron Fist. But for now, things are going reasonably well and while it is still very early in the semester, I would give the current administration an A.

Walter Russell Mead is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Andrew Bacevich

Grade: Incomplete

When it comes to atmospherics, Obama deserves a solid A. Dialogue has replaced hectoring. Realism is no longer considered a code word for appeasement. The nation's bout of ideological fever now about spent, good old-fashioned pragmatism has returned to favor. The president's effort to repair some of the wreckage of the Bush era is, therefore, off to a promising start.

Yet when it comes to fundamentals, Obama gets at best an I, for incomplete. There is little evidence that his administration has even begun to connect the dots between the foreign-policy failures that defined the Bush era and the economic crisis that defines the age of Obama. Bluntly, the American Century has ended. The world no longer sees the United States as alpha and omega, source of salvation and sustenance, vanguard of history, guiding spirit, and inspiration for all humankind. Obama faces the challenge -- and the opportunity -- of conceptualizing what follows the American Century, a feat that will require not only dialogue and realism, but also historical imagination and creativity.

Andrew Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University.

Gianni Riotta

Grade: B+

Oh no, President Obama cannot do it! He's all wrong. Too much money to the banks! It's a debt crisis, stupid; you do not fix it by going deeper in the red. The plan is too timid, but also too bold. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is sooo cute, but can he really face Congress? D+, says the rabid leftist punditry.

Oh no, Barack is all wrong, he's a socialist, and soon he'll be giving out prescription glasses, one model fits all, like John Lennon had to wear as a kid thanks to Europe's Soviet economy and welfare system. F-, says the rabid, pill-guzzling radiosphera.

We rationalists can give President Obama a B+. He is aware of the crisis's dangers; has avoided spreading fear; and has supported the market while trimming its excesses. Contrary to his European colleagues, President Obama has shied away from populism and class-war cries. He has kept the nation together. On to the fall semester.

Gianni Riotta is the editor of Il Sole 24 Ore.

Parag Khanna

Grade: A

When George W. Bush took office, some spoke of a revolution in American foreign policy. It failed.

Now we have the restoration of diplomacy as it should be: taboo-free dialogue with any and all necessary partners. In a mere 100 days, Obama has either reopened or intimated ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and Iran -- among other so-called rogue states where nearly a decade (or in some cases much longer) of attempted diplomatic isolation and sanctions have proven counterproductive. In doing this, Obama has not given an inch of ground on America's core national interests. To the contrary, he has demonstrated that he is a president who actually understands what those interests are.

Parag Khanna directs the Global Governance Initiative at the New America Foundation.

Karim Sadjadpour

Grade (Iran): A-

Based only on the first 100 days, I think the Obama administration's approach to Iran has been more informed and nuanced than that of any U.S. administration in the last 30 years. He has been respectful without projecting weakness, which is always a delicate balance.

Ultimately it takes two to tango, and at the moment hardliners in Tehran who are not interested in having an amicable relationship with the United States have an inordinate amount of influence. Rather than strengthen these hardliners, Obama's overtures will put pressure on them to justify their often gratuitous enmity toward the United States.

The majority of Iranian officials recognize that the death to America culture of 1979 is obsolete in 2009 -- it only prevents the country from fulfilling its enormous potential. Whereas the Bush administration united Iran's disparate political factions against a common threat, the Obama administration's approach will likely accentuate the divisions and incongruities among Iran's political elites.

Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Philip Zelikow

Grade: none given

I think it's still way too early in the semester to start handing out grades, at least for this plodding professor.

Philip Zelikow was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and is currently a professor at the University of Virginia. He blogs at shadow.foreignpolicy.com.

Elliott Abrams

Grade: D

The apology tours are not the administration's worst offense, and would only merit a C. The D reflects the abandonment of brave men and women throughout the world fighting for human rights and civil liberties. The president's defense of his friendly chats with Hugo Chvez (Venezuela is no strategic threat to the United States) was typical: he showed no understanding or concern for the impact of his outreach to Chvez, or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, or the Chinese (one could go on) on valiant people in those countries struggling peacefully for progress toward -- or back to -- democracy. Meanwhile, all the key human rights posts in the administration, at State and NSC, remain vacant. If our most famous human rights groups were not left-leaning and in the administration's pocket, they'd be screaming bloody murder about this scandal.

Elliott Abrams served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Robert Reich

Grade (economics): C+

Here's my report card on Obamanomics so far:

The 10-year budget gets an A. It's an extraordinary vision of what America can and should become, including universal health insurance and environmental protections against climate change. And the budget takes a little bit more from the rich and gives a little bit more back to the poor and lower middle class, which seems appropriate given that the income gap is wider than it's been since the 1920s. I'd give the budget an A plus except for its far-too-rosy economic projections.

The stimulus package gets a B. Good as far as it goes -- but doesn't go nearly far enough. $787 billion over two years sounds like a lot of stimulus. But the American economy is operating at about a trillion and a half dollars below its capacity this year alone. And considering that state governments are cutting services and increasing taxes to the tune of $350 billion over this year and next, the stimulus is even smaller. Other major nations are doing their parts to stimulate the global economy, but at the G-20 Obama failed to get the larger commitments that the global economy needs.

The last grade is for the bailouts of major Wall Street banks. I give them an F. I'm a big fan of this administration, but I've got to be honest: The bailouts are failing. So far American taxpayers have shoveled out almost $600 billion. Yet the banks are lending less money than they did five months ago. Bank executives are still taking home princely sums; their toxic assets and non-performing loans are growing; and the banks are still cooking their books. And now the Treasury is talking about converting taxpayer dollars into bank equity, which exposes taxpayers to even greater losses. A new round of bank regulation is on its way, but it's been on a slow track so far.

So that's the report card. An A on the budget, B on the stimulus, and F on the bailout. On the whole (given how I weigh grades) that gives Obamanomics a C+. Not bad given the magnitude of the problems Obama inherited. But by the same token, not nearly good enough.

Robert Reich, a secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, is a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. A version of this post appeared on his personal blog, at robertreich.org.

Marc Lynch

Grade: A-

Obama has taken on an incredibly ambitious agenda in the Middle East, against long odds. He managed the recasting of Iraq policy brilliantly, emerging with solid bipartisan consensus around his plan to draw down forces and withdraw by the end of 2011. His personal outreach to the Muslim world has been stellar, tapping into his potential to be a transformative figure in America's relations with the Islamic world -- and he has backed that up with concrete policy changes on hot issues such as Guantanamo and torture. He has consistently emphasized the U.S. commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, and especially to the two-state solution... although I worry that some people in the administration are too wedded to a West Bank first, Fatah only strategy that is very likely to fail. I don't have a great deal of hope that there can be much progress with this Israeli government or with the divided Palestinian leadership. But Obama has delivered on his promise to engage directly with rivals such as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, putting some meat on his earlier convictions about the value of such diplomacy.

I am less confident about the direction of his policy on two key issues: Iran and Afghanistan. The contours of his engagement with Iran are not yet clear, and there could be some serious negative fallout if the administration opts for a narrow dialogue on the nuclear program on a short clock, rather than a broad dialogue over the full set of regional issues. I worry at the number of key positions which remain unfilled. And I don't really understand the logic of the new Af-Pak strategy, or see any reason to believe that the additional troops or the new strategy are likely to significantly change the situation there. But overall Obama has demonstrated tremendous instincts thus far on foreign policy, delivering just the approach he promised during the campaign and putting a lot of potential issues into play.

Marc Lynch, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, blogs at lynch.foreignpolicy.com.

Robert Kagan

Grade: A-/B+

President Obama scores high on Afghanistan and Iraq, where he bucked his left wing, to deepen U.S. commitment in the first and maintain it responsibly in the second. His policy toward Iran makes sense, so long as he is ready with a serious Plan B if the negotiating track with Tehran fails. His policies toward Russia are sound, which include going ahead with missile defense unless and until the Iran threat is gone, sticking up for the right of Ukraine and Georgia to choose their own allies, and rejecting any Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet space. The test will come when Russia sparks another crisis with Georgia. I would have given him a straight A- if he hadn't thrown a bouquet to the Venezuelan dictator, which adds to an emerging pattern of indifference to human rights and democratic aspirations from Russia to China to Iran and now to Latin America. One hopes this strategically misguided and morally disturbing approach fades as the need to be mindlessly anything-but-Bush becomes less of a driving force in the administration's foreign policy.

Robert Kagan is a columnist for the Washington Post and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ivan Krastev

Grade: B+

First, it is too early to say whether Obama's foreign policy initiatives will work. But he has opened a huge amount of room for maneuver that the United States had been desperately missing before.

Second, he has achieved any presidents' dream: pursuing a realpolitik that most people outside of the United States already view as the ideal politik. Obama has even introduced his own brand of realism -- inspirational realism.

In my view, a recent joke best summarizes his achievements. In the wake of the G-20 meeting, Obama, Sarkozy, and Putin were walking around a beautiful lake. In the middle of the lake, there was an island. Let's go there, Obama suggested, and started walking on water to it. Sarkozy followed him. Medvedev also followed, but started sinking.

Should we tell him where the stones are? Sarkozy whispered to Obama.

What stones? Obama replied.

But while inspirational realism is probably what the United States can deliver at the moment, the best question about Obama's policies is, will they work? Probably the most fundamental shift in Obama's policies concern Europe. It is not too early to say that in its relations with Russia, the United States does not view the country as a European power anymore.

Ivan Krastev is the chair of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Kenneth Roth

Grade: none given

President Obama has made major strides in reversing the Bush administration's abusive and counterproductive approach to combating terrorism. He shut down the CIA's secret detention facilities, insisted that the CIA abide by the military's (quite good) interrogation rules, suspended the military commissions, and promised to close Guantnamo within a year. Most recently, as Human Rights Watch has recommended, he signaled a willingness to launch a nonpartisan 9/11-style truth commission to investigate the use of torture and recommend remedial steps -- essential for repudiating this abuse and ensuring that it does not recur. The major open question is how to close Guantnamo -- whether by adopting a policy of prosecute or release, as Human Rights Watch urges, or effectively continuing Guantnamo by permitting ongoing long-term detention without trial.

Kenneth Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Stephen Walt

Grade: B+

After 100 days, I'd give President Obama a B+ on foreign policy. If he were a student, I'd say it was a promising start but there is still room for improvement.

Of course, grade inflation is a problem here at Harvard, so my scoring of his first set of assignments may be a bit too generous. But my assessment begins with the knowledge that he inherited a disastrous situation. Not only did the world economy implode just before Obama took office, but George W. Bush bequeathed him a rapidly rising budget deficit, a battered international image, and two losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And don't fall for the neocon hype that the surge brought us to the brink of victory. It helped reduce the violence temporarily -- along with several other factors -- but it failed to achieve the larger strategic goal of political reconciliation. Plus, its tactical achievements may now be unraveling.) Obama also inherits eight years of incompetent Middle East diplomacy, a frayed set of global institutions, and wide-ranging skepticism about U.S. wisdom and integrity.

In effect, Obama is now trying to rewrite a midterm exam where George Bush got to fill in all the answers first and got most of them wrong. The good news is that graders around the world seem inclined to cut Obama some slack while he's redoing the sums. But only for a while.

Given that legacy, Obama has done fairly well. He's made a sharp break with some of Bush's worst decisions, reiterating his commitment to get out of Iraq, to end the Bush torture regime, close Gitmo, and get serious about neglected issues like Israel-Palestine and climate change. He has taken important steps to address some unnecessary strains with Russia and to explore a diplomatic solution with Iran. His first international trip was a qualified success; there were no major gaffes, a few minor achievements, and the beginning of potentially important initiatives on nuclear weapons and in relations with the Muslim world. He is also acting like the leader of global superpower, someone who is confident enough to know that America can talk to Iran without giving in to unreasonable demands, or that the U.S. president can shake hands with a minor-league leader like Hugo Chvez without placing the republic in dire peril. Note to the GOP: Chill!

A promising start, therefore, but Obama gets points deducted in two places and has yet to answer one crucial question.

First, he's already exhibiting the classic weakness of smart, young, energetic, curious, and well-educated presidents like Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter; he's interested in too many things and trying to do too much at once. Look at his agenda so far: an opening to Iran, serious engagement for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an outstretched hand to the Muslim world, and a commitment to major nuclear arms reductions. And don't forget the environment, Asia, and fixing the worst economic mess since the Great Depression. He's promising to take action on immigration, health care, and education. None of these things fits in the category of low-hanging fruit, which means they will require time, effort, and an investment of political capital. A to-do list this long is bound to produce more disappointments than achievements, and I don't see anyone in the administration who is willing or able to impose a stricter set of priorities -- let alone a grand strategy -- on all this restless ambition. He's like a student who's asked to pick one of three possible essay questions on an exam, and decides to impress the professor by answering all three. Unless you're a genius, this is usually not a promising strategy.

Second, Obama has committed the United States to achieving victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan and to stabilizing the political situation in Pakistan. Both goals are desirable in the abstract, but he has yet to explain how the United States is going to do this or how large a commitment of resources it will take. This is a major decision with far-reaching implications, and I fear that it reflects the same degree of hubris and hasty deliberation that led George W. Bush into Iraq in 2003. If it turns out to be a blunder of similar magnitude, Obama's entire agenda will be badly compromised.

Finally, the unanswered question. Thus far, Obama has yet to show the resolute toughness that successful presidents eventually have to display. He's got empathy and eloquence in spades, and these skills are serving him well as he seeks to rebuild America's global image. But he also needs to show that he can draw lines, take names, and when necessary, make those who try to cross him pay a price. This principle applies to foreign adversaries, contentious allies, the GOP, and even his fellow Democrats in Congress. So I'm waiting for him to demonstrate that The Godfather really is his favorite movie. I don't want him out there spoiling for a fight, but I don't want him shrinking from one either.

So I'll give him a B+. And if he came to my office hours and asked how he could improve during the rest of the term, I'd tell him he could still earn an A if he focused on the core issues and didn't get distracted by trivialities.

Stephen Walt, the Robert and Rene Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, blogs at walt.foreignpolicy.com.

Antonio Carlucci

Grade: B

Obama has gone to great lengths to show the world that U.S. foreign policy is no longer guided by unilateralist instincts. The evidence? The rhetorical overtures to the Muslim world in Istanbul and his attitude at the OAS Summit in Trinidad both went a long way toward mending broken fences. But Obama has also advanced concrete proposals for multilateral dialogue: a new START Treaty with Russia by the end of the year, a reduction of U.S. greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, and most importantly, perhaps, his willingness to engage Iran without demanding an end to enrichment first. Grade: A.

On the Israeli/Palestinian front, however, the president has been far too timid. He has yet to decide on whether Hamas is a potential interlocutor or only a dangerous enemy. To believe that engaging the Palestinians solely through the Palestinian Authority can help solve the problem would be a mistake. And without an underlying strategic stance, the upcoming talks in Washington will amount to little more than the latest in a long series of media pageants. Grade: C-.

Much like his predecessor, Obama has misunderestimated North Korea. For two decades, the regime in Pyongyang has blackmailed the international community with impunity, obtaining vast amounts of aid and fuel in exchange for empty promises. Ultimately, the DPRK poses little or no threat to the security of the United States, but the implications of North Korea becoming a case study in political extortion are ominous. Grade: C-.

Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, including the 17,000-troop mini-surge, is a step in the right direction. Judging from the recent deterioration on the Iraqi front, however, it is unlikely that the situation will improve without some sort of political settlement. Grade: B.

Antonio Carlucci is the U.S. bureau chief of L'Espresso.

Suzanne Maloney

Grade (Iran policy): B-

Having boldly embraced engagement during the campaign, the Obama administration's approach to Tehran to date has been adequate but uninspired. The president's nicely nuanced video message marking Iran's new year holiday hit all the right notes, and the State Department has wisely sought to draw Tehran into a more constructive role on Afghanistan and to enhance cooperation with key players such as Russia. For the most part, however, the administration's Iran strategy remains reactive, ill-defined, and suspiciously similar to the Bush administration's carrot-and-stick diplomacy during its final years. To succeed where those efforts -- and most of the past three decades of U.S. policy -- have failed, Obama needs to go beyond his early tentativeness and articulate a serious plan for persuading Tehran to adopt a more responsible approach to the world.

Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Peter Feaver

Grade: B-

On foreign policy, the Obama team has earned a respectable B- (the equivalent, in these grade-inflated days, of the old gentleman's C). I don't see the case for saying he has been a failure thus far. On the contrary, he has been better than many feared, at least on foreign policy (one can reach a different conclusion in the domestic arena). Nor, except for the Kool-aid drinking set, is it credible to give him the B or higher that grade-grubbers seek. If I saw his performance in one of my students, however, I would send that student a cautionary note, reminding him about standard academic practices of attribution and footnoting, and warning him not to try to pass off other people's work as his own original ideas.

On the major issues that required real policy decisions, Obama has largely continued the Bush policy. I defy someone to identify how the Af-Pak decision was substantially different from the trajectory that the Bush team was on. It was sold with different rhetoric, but on policy, it was the same. Same policy, different letterhead.

The Iraq policy is also more similar than not, at least in terms of what Obama has done thus far (embrace the Status of Forces Agreement and stiff the get out of Iraq now caucus). The real test for him will come in June if, as seems possible, General Odierno recommends sliding the June 2009 deadline for getting U.S. troops out of the cities a bit in order not to precipitate a collapse in Mosul (and perhaps elsewhere).

I can understand a grade appeal on the other war on terror policies. It seems to me that for the most part, President Obama is looking for as much stylistic/atmospheric/rhetorical difference as he can spin, but is keeping the main elements of the Bush policy intact. He hasn't even closed Gitmo yet; he is just promising to do so in the future.

With all of this, however, he is skirting with an attribution problem because he and his spinners pretend these are bold and dramatic changes. Yes, there are some real differences -- I don't think the Bush team would have released the lawyer memos on coercive interrogations over the objections of the intelligence community -- but they are on the margins.

It reminds me very much of a student who borrows another person's paper, changes the font, reformats the text, tweaks the acknowledgements, and trims it here and there before handing it in as his own work. Of course, in governing, unlike in academia, passing off other people's work as your own is both acceptable and, at times, laudatory. The off-putting aspect is the pettiness of criticizing the very people whose work you are emulating.

So I am actually, on balance, reasonably positive about President Obama's foreign policy thus far. However, 100 days is so soon, it could hardly even count as a midterm grade. On many issues, Obama has yet to really engage.

Can anyone explain what is his policy regarding North Korea? And while we know Obama is willing to drop the precondition that Iran suspend its enrichment while engaging in talks with the United States, this tactical shift does not a strategy make. The rest of his Iran policy, so far as I can determine, involves pressuring the Europeans to increase their economic coercion of Iran (bigger stick) and offering more generous terms of U.S. dtente with Iran earlier in the process (bigger carrots). The Bush administration tried this very sticks-with-carrots strategy and did not succeed with it. If there is more to Obama's Iran strategy than that, I haven't seen it yet. What about China? What about India? What about Japan? To get a good grade in this foreign policy class, there has to be a coherent strategy for Asia, and I don't see it yet either.

A final word on the principal focus of the Obama foreign policy team thus far: rebuilding America's soft power by cashing in on Obama's celebrity status and shifting as many toxic assets onto the Bush legacy ledger as they can. The former is reasonable and the latter is understandable. But I think the Obama team has come pretty close to playing both strings out as far as they can go. From now on, what will matter is not whether Chvez says nice things about Obama, but whether the revived soft power brings real results. And it will get harder and harder to win applause lines by apologizing for the policies of your predecessor when you continue them in important respects.

Peter Feaver is a professor of political science at Duke University. He blogs at shadow.foreignpolicy.com.

Dov Zakheim

Grade: B-/C+

The Obama team means well, but they have not thought through the consequences of many of their initiatives. It is all very nice to speak to Iran, but at what point does the talking stop? Most of the Arab states are very nervous: Egypt's foreign minister almost routinely denounces Iran; Morocco has broken off diplomatic relations; and the Gulf States (minus Qatar) resent Tehran's description of Bahrain as its 14th province (shades of Saddam's equivalent description of Kuwait in 1990). The Israelis, increasingly worried by America's posture, seem ever more trigger happy and are deadly serious about a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations seem to run on endlessly.

The administration is right to attempt to reach an understanding with Russia. But Moscow's negotiators are as tough as ever they were during the old Soviet days, and they have thus far insisted that any accommodation on the Third Site program in Poland and the Czech Republic will not trigger reciprocity in terms of pressure on Iran. Russia's interest in Tehran is driven by business objectives, and those have hardly disappeared.

The administration made the right move against the Somali pirates -- but that was a one-off affair. The shrunken U.S. Navy cannot patrol all of the waters in which pirates prey on merchant shipping. So where do we go from here?

The same question might be asked about talks or any kind of relationship with North Korea after its firing of another long-range missile over Japan. Pyongyang evidently feels it can get away with just about anything while Washington is preoccupied in the Middle East and Central Asia. So far it has.

The administration did the right thing by focusing on Turkey and, half a world away, Mexico. But Turkey will not get into the European Union just because President Obama says so. The EU has enough internal problems of its own, and it is wary of meddling by a powerful non-member. Mexico, for its part, likewise is wary of American intentions. The Mexican challenge is a serious one, but requires great delicacy on the part of Washington. Our neighbor to the south has not yet forgotten the incursion to catch Pancho Villa -- nor, for that matter, the Battle of Veracruz.

The administration's announcement of a troop withdrawal from Iraq was welcomed by all -- until the Kurds became even more nervous about Kirkuk while the Shia authorities began turning on the Sunni Awakening's leaders. Withdrawal is going to be a lot more painful than the administration would like. And if Israel does indeed strike Iran, withdrawal in the face of an Iranian response against the United States (which will be blamed as complicit in the strike despite its clear opposition to it) may be difficult to implement at all.

Finally, the administration's new policy direction and emphasis regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan seems appropriate and long overdue -- as long as it does not enmesh itself in internal Pakistani politics. Nawaz Sharif is hardly a godsend, as some State Department officials wistfully believe. The administration may yet rue the day that Musharraf departed from the scene.

All in all, the intentions are good, the execution is uncertain, and the third and fourth order ramifications of both have yet to be addressed. I end where I began: B-/C+.

Dov Zakheim was undersecretary of defense during the George W. Bush administration. He blogs at shadow.foreignpolicy.com.

Danielle Pletka

Grade: C

Some will be tempted to inflate their grade, as Obama has fashioned himself the anti-Bush. But I'm not him is not a foreign policy, nor is an almost pathological proclivity to apologize for American power and leadership. Obama's handling of the pirate crisis, which some have viewed as an affirmation of his manhood, was a de minimus test of the new president's competence. Nor was the Summit of the Americas, and a rapprochement with the region's most loathsome thugs, anything that will bear fruit on national security or stir pride in Americans' morality. On the other hand, there are some who would mark Obama a failure already. That is unjust. The president has met the early challenge on Afghanistan, though there are signs of a serious unraveling to come. He resisted the urgings of his more unhinged associates for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. Obama is neither a genius nor a foreign-policy failure after 100 days. But there are ominous straws in the wind. A policy on Iran has not materialized, and Obama looks increasingly desperate. North Korea has spiraled out of control. Most troubling of all, the obvious disorganization that could be excused because of a cumbersome confirmation and appointments process will not suffice to cover the policy vacuum for long.

Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

 

Lawrence Korb

Grade (Afghanistan): A

U.S. military power is a necessary, but not sufficient component of an overall strategy to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan recognizes the fact that the U.S. must draw on all elements of American power -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- to foster sustainable security in Afghanistan and the region. Moreover, the administration's policy wisely seeks to increase the civilian and military capacity of the Afghan government in order to create a resilient, stable state.

Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

 

Ricardo Avila

Grade: A

In contrast with most of his predecessors, President Obama is enjoying a long honeymoon in world opinion. In both London during the G-20 Summit and Port of Spain in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, the new U.S. president has charmed not only Washington's friends but specially its adversaries. Besides, his decisions on issues like Guantanamo and Cuba have shown that he is willing to take risks. The general impression is that Obama will take action on the issues he's spoken on, thus far. The only concern regards the internal politics of the United States. Some people believe that Obama will find obstacles if he wants to push a more ambitious agenda, both in Congress and inside his own administration.

Ricardo Avila is the editor-in-chief of Portafolio, the Colombian business newspaper.

 

Laura Secor

Grade (Iran policy): A

President Obama's outreach to Iran has struck all the right notes: cordial and respectful, but also canny. By extending an open hand to Iran's leadership without pandering to its bottomless demand for apologies and genuflection, Obama has forced the Iranian regime to show its populace where it stands on solving, or perpetuating, the country's problems.

Laura Secor is a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and has written on Iran for the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine.

Meghan O'Sullivan

Grade: B+

President Obama deserves the high marks for his treatment of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in his first 100 days. With his trip to Baghdad and his March 27 speech on Afghanistan, Obama has taken ownership of both wars and offered reasonable paths forward. On Iraq in particular, he deserves kudos and gets an A-.

While the rhetorical emphasis has been on bringing troops home, in practice, the avowed timeline of getting all combat forces out of Iraq by the end of August 2010 has the virtue of freeing the administration from President Obama's original campaign promise to withdraw one to two brigades a month. This modification gives U.S. commanders necessary flexibility to address tensions that will inevitably arise over the course of an Iraqi election year. To maintain top marks, the Obama Administration will need to pursue an active political strategy in Baghdad to help Iraqis overcome disputes, like that over Kirkuk and other disputed territories, which lie ahead in the near term. Marks for Afghanistan and Pakistan are still good at a B, but somewhat weaker in part due to my concern that the President's decision to make building the Afghan Security Forces -- rather than population security -- the centerpiece of the strategy is unlikely to produce meaningful results in the necessary timeframe. With this as the primary mission, the Afghan strategy for confronting an aggressive insurgency bears an uneasy resemblance to the failed U.S. effort in Iraq 2005-2006. The hardest piece of this challenge is Pakistan, where the administration will be hard pressed to change Pakistani behavior with inducements and threats, absent a successful diplomatic effort between India and Pakistan to ease core Pakistani insecurities. The Obama administration may have just such an effort underway, and if so, is right to keep it quiet and behind the scenes.

Meghan O'Sullivan was a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and is now a senior fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

 

Charles Kupchan

Grade: A-

President Obama is off to a very good start. In substance and tone, he has put on offer a more respectful and consensual brand of U.S. leadership, and backed it up with astute public diplomacy. Obama has made clear that he wants to improve America's relations with allies and adversaries alike -- but that allies must do more to share burdens with the United States and that adversaries must stand down from confrontational and destabilizing policies. Obama is headed in the right direction if he is to restore U.S. legitimacy abroad and secure the teamwork needed to address international challenges. He gets the minus only because it is too soon to give anyone a straight A; the hard part -- implementation -- awaits.

Charles Kupchan is a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow for Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Paul Pillar

Grade (intelligence policy): A-

There is not much to grade so far, and that is as it should be. Prudently absent from the administration's agenda is another round of politically appealing, but disruptive and ineffective, intelligence reform. The process of appointing Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency did not go smoothly, but the White House showed itself to be open to considering both insiders and outsiders. It bucked skepticism in picking a CIA director whose political savvy and Washington experience will serve the president and the agency well. On the coercive interrogations of detainees, Obama was right to end a practice that has damaged U.S. standing in the world, to declassify memos on methods that will no longer be used, and to try to keep the nation focused on tasks ahead rather than wallowing in recriminations from the past.

Paul Pillar worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for nearly 30 years. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University.

 

Jose Manuel Calvo

Grade: A-

A preface: of course, is too soon to tell. Next year, it will be far easier and more accurate to grade Obama's foreign policy. And, of course, his main target, now and probably the next few years, will be the economic crisis. We are still waiting for the first real international crisis to test his commander-in-chief quality.

But, I'm giving the president a high grade because he brought a new climate to the international arena; like he has done in domestic politics, he has been able to inspire a certain confidence, in spite of the difficult tasks. And because he calibrated the pros and cons of having a Secretary of State with a strong political personality and bet on her experience and pragmatism (but, again, is too soon to tell how that will work out).

Also, as the commander-in-chief of armed forces fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has sent positive messages to the American soldiers. He also showed resolve in the rescue of the Maersk Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips, in the waters of the Horn of Africa.

The easiest part has been, in the first 100 days, to reconnect with the U.S.'s allies in Europe, to promise cooperation and show a multilateralist approach to problems, to give hope to forgotten neighbors in Latin America and to use dialogue with adversaries --Cuba, Venezuela, Iran-- as a starting point.

Now, the difficult present and future await. He must manage the wars -- the successful exit from a still fragile Iraq and the more complicated Afghan front; deal with Russia, North Korea and Iran in different negotiations; make steps forward in the endless Palestinian-Israeli conflict; be alert and ready regarding al Qaeda and international terrorism.

It is true: all of these problems need time, and we cant expect quick solutions. But the next eight months -- rather, the next eighteen -- will show us that president Obama will need much more than the good words and good will of his 100 first days. The friendly faces that welcome him wherever he goes will turn in clenched jaws when he has to make his first unpopular decisions.

Jose Manuel Calvo is the deputy managing editor of El Pais and heads its global edition.

 

Cristina Manzano

Grade: B+

Obama is still the man everybody wants a picture with. In the last 100 days, we've seen worldwide leaders rushing around Summits to have their five minutes of fame next to him. In any case, he's brought a breath of fresh air into the international arena. And even if many of his decisions have had so far only cosmetic or symbolic effects, he deserves merit for having set up a completely new tone in international dialogue. His general message to the Muslim world, his letter to Iran, his handshake with Chavez, and his relationship with Medvedev were unthinkable only a few months ago.

On the successes side, there have been two real decisions -- his openness to Cuba and the green light to attack the Somali pirates (we'll use our hard power when we'll need to) -- and one very good intention: closing Guantanamo.

On the failures side, it's too soon to cast judgment. One might include here his failure to convince European leaders to increase their fiscal stimulus to combat the crisis, but that would mean considering only one side of the story.

He keeps expectations high and most Europeans still see him through benevolent eyes. Among the toughest challenges is his recently assumed stance towards the Middle East. I also find challenging his relationship with Secretary of State Clinton. As long as they share goals and tactics, this strange couple will do well. But if Clinton feels overshadowed by her omnipresent boss or seeks a higher role, the future won't be so bright.

Cristina Manzano is the editor of Foreign Policy's Spain edition.

 

Fawaz A. Gerges

Grade: B+

While President Obama has not crafted policies toward the greater Middle East yet, he has earned an A for his nuanced and culturally sensitive political discourse.

Three reasons for the top grade: since the inauguration, Obama has systematically reached out to Muslims and often stressed that the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.

Obama has also made it clear that the United States will no longer view the Muslim world through the prism of terrorism, a clear departure from the previous narrow-minded administration, but seeks a broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

Reaching out to Arabs and Muslims further, Obama has promised to press for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, a pivotal fault line in the region, once again an important break with the criminal neglect to many of us -- of the Arab-Israeli peace process -- by the Bush administration.

The challenge facing Obama is to translate his high-minded rhetoric into concrete policies, which has earned him a B+ so far.

Fawaz A. Gerges, who holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in Middle Eastern studies and international Affairs at Sarah Lawrence, is the author of The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global.

Philip Levy

Grade: B-

One important measure of the success of our foreign policy is the goodwill the world expresses toward the United States. That has clearly increased under the Obama Administration. This may be due more to who the president is than the things he has done, but we don't grade students down for being gifted. Further, the president has defused some potential conflicts, such as a G-20 fight over stimulus, a battle over NAFTA renegotiation, trade disputes over Buy America, and a conflict over Chinese currency.

The problem is that it was the president who lit the fuse in each of these cases. There are other instances in which lit fuses are still burning. The president signed a measure that violated U.S. NAFTA commitments on Mexican trucks. He has yet to take action on critical FTAs with Colombia and South Korea. He did not support removal of the Buy American provision, thus sending a protectionist signal against select trading partners. His response to global macro imbalances has been to propose a decade of increased and unsustainable U.S. borrowing. Nor has he shown any great ability to persuade other countries to come around to his point of view, despite a serious effort to do so at the G-20.

Philip Levy is a resident scholar in international trade and development at the American Enterprise Institute. He blogs at shadow.foreignpolicy.com.

Ted Galen Carpenter

Grade: C

I would give President an overall grade of C on foreign policy. He gets solid B's for his initial efforts to establish better relations with both Iran and Cuba, and he deserves at least a C for trying to repair the relationship with Russia. On the other hand, he came away from the NATO summit in Strasbourg with very little of substance from the European allies, especially regarding the mission in Afghanistan, so he gets a D on that issue. His performance regarding North Korea was even a bit worse. His expectation that the United Nations Security Council would give a vigorous response to Pyongyang's missile launch was naive, at best, and the Obama foreign policy team seems clueless about how to handle North Korea. He gets a D- on that issue. Finally, his policy toward the drug violence in Mexico is both futile and stale. Obama deserves an F for that performance.

On the defense policy side, President Obama and Secretary Gates are at least scaling back the huge annual spending increases the Pentagon has enjoyed since 9/11. Terminating unneeded weapon systems is a good step, but the changes do not go nearly far enough. The president deserves a C for the administration's initial efforts, but nothing higher.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Dmitri Trenin

Grade (Russia policy): B+

President Obama deserves a B+ because he has clearly identified the need to move Russia from the liabilities column to the assets one, and engaged the Russian leadership by expressing his willingness to listen to their concerns and reset the badly frayed relationship.

He addressed the issue of nuclear arms early on in his admin, and re-launched START, in a new context of non-proliferation efforts. He also created momentum with his letter-exchange with President Medvedev, followed up by their London encounter, and the announcement of a United States visit to Russia.

He, however, does not get the top grade, in my view, because he still lacks a Russia strategy. His opening moves essentially doing away with the Bush legacy rather than establishing an Obama line. The Russo-American detente has more or less happened already, as a function of the economic crisis and Obama resetting the U.S. foreign policy. As the going gets tougher, as it probably will, we do not know what the administration will do, whether they will still care about the relationship, or would have to let go of Russia, arguing that it was a relationship both too difficult and not critical enough. In this case, future grades will lean south.

Dmitri Trenin is the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Moscow Center.

 

Michael O'Hanlon

Grade (Iraq): B+

The troop drawdown plan is generally fine, especially in the fact that some 50,000 U.S. troops will likely remain after the drawdown is complete. However, the hard part is the execution. And so far the Obama administration, while doing a solid job on the troop drawdown plan, has wasted time getting Ambassador Chris Hill in place (even though Ryan Crocker's departure early in 2009 was predictable a year ago). The Senate held up Chris Hill, to be sure; but the initial delay was due to the administration's slowness in addressing the matter. So I can't be too laudatory and can't give an A, at least not yet.

Michael O'Hanlon is a specialist in military analysis at the Brookings Institution.

 

 

Feature

Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.