President Obama came into office pledging to not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor’s foreign policy. Maybe he has but Obama certainly has new one. For the Democrat that will succeed him in 2016 Obama’s mistakes will prove haunting.
Recent polls from Gallup and Pew have shown that fewer people worldwide view the US and Obama favorably, almost on par with Bush when he left office. The situations in Iraq and Syria have deteriorated significantly in recent months. ISIS, an offshoot of Sunni militants based in Syria, has carved out an empire in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq and is reportedly driving on Baghdad. The Iraqi army has fled. Now, the US is being forced to talk to Iran to help the Iraqi army as the President and Congress are unwilling to buck public opinion and send in ground troops. Even airstrikes seem a far off possibility.
The President alienated his Congressional allies with the Bergdahl/Taliban Five trade. Congressional Democrats already at odds with the President over his domestic initiatives on energy now have qualms with his foreign policy. Specifically, Senator Diane Feinstein (CA), chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, has sided with multiple Republicans in arguing the President violated the National Defense Reauthorization Act bt not notifying Congress about the trade. More worrisome for other members of Congress are fears that this is merely a first step from the President in his quest to close Guantanamo.
The likely successor to Obama, Hillary Clinton, will not just have to deal with these issues but others. Bengahzi is likely to remain a major issue well into 2016. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State yielded no major results. Her successor, John Kerry, in a mere few months negotiated an agreement with Iran for them to stall their nuclear development program for a year. That agreement expires in July. However, Hillary can overcome these issues. Overcoming her connection to a President who has implemented a schizophrenic and dangerous foreign policy will not be so easy.
Obama’s domestic policy approval ratings have been consistently underwater since 2013 but until recently the President had strong approval ratings on foreign policy. But since the Bergdahl/Taliban Five trade and the chaos in Iraq his numbers have dropped dramatically. Now the President’s foreign policy numbers mirror his domestic policy numbers. Clinton or another Democrat that wins the nomination will only be able to run away from the President’s record on these issues so far. In order to appeal to the modern Democratic base which is extremely anti-war they will have to echo some of the President’s policies to the detriment of winning the middle.
Republicans have long criticized the President for his foreign policy. These criticisms have run the gambit from not negotiating a status of forces agreement in Iraq to setting up timelines t o leave Afghanistan to drawing the red line in Syria on the use of chemical weapons. Until now the President has been able to shrug these criticisms off as partisan attacks but that argument falls apart with Democrats now turning on the President.
A lack of lines of communication with Congress has characterized Obama’s administration from the start. His successor will have to repair the damaged relationships this has caused. From energy regulations to national security policy many Democrats have been caught unawares. For older Congressional Democrats who dealt with the open Clinton administration this has caused frustration. Perhaps they now know how Republicans have felt for the last six years.
Obama has been unable to turn back to his domestic policy for successes. Multiple endangered Democrats and Republicans have stymied the President’s agenda. His signature achievement, Obamacare. is far from a public approval or electoral winner. The President has been forced to resort to Executive Orders to implement policy allowing Republicans to paint him as an autocrat. This means Obama’s successor will not just be hurt by the President’s foreign policy but also his domestic policy.
This might not matter except for the fact the GOP bench in 2016 is much stronger than most assume. Governors Walker, Kasich and Jindal all have strong and conservative policy agendas they have implemented. Senators Rubio, Paul and Cruz have carved out niches of support within the GOP and represent a newer, younger and more diverse Republican party. Dark horses such as Doctor Ben Carson could even prove stronger than anticipated.
Combine the President’s weak foreign and domestic policy with the GOP’s strong Presidential bench and you see that 2016 will be far from a coronation for Democrats, Clinton or no Clinton. Obama’s record willybe a part of the campaign and his feckless foreign policy will haunt Democrats.