Yoni Appelbaum relays a questionable claim from Richard Haass:
President Obama’s term in office, said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was marked by the pendulum swinging toward caution. “Much of his administration was a conscious reaction what he saw of his predecessor of trying to do much,” he said. “Seeing the dangers of doing too much, he opted to do less, and I think what historians will see is that he opted to do too little in places [bold mine-DL].”
I don’t know how future historians will view Obama’s foreign policy, and neither does Haass. It is interesting that Haass chooses to put it this way, since he is really making a statement about how much of the contemporary foreign policy establishment views Obama’s record. It is Haass and many of his colleagues that now think Obama has done “too little in places,” which is tied up with their support for an exaggerated, activist U.S. role in the world. Obama has actually been a very activist foreign policy president in both terms, but on certain issues he has not been quite as aggressive as many in the foreign policy establishment wanted him to be, and so they conclude that he did “too little.” Haass invokes future historians to make his assessment seem objective and disinterested, but it just a way to smuggle in the objections of administration critics that want a more meddlesome foreign policy.
Haass also chides Obama for having “an intellectual and political overreaction to his predecessor.” The funny thing about this is that it was not that long ago that Haass himself used to think that the U.S. was doing too much abroad. At some point in the last three years, Haass concluded that Obama is insufficiently activist. This is the same period in which Obama started a new unauthorized war in Iraq and Syria, backed the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, concluded a nuclear deal with Iran, and increased military aid to the Syrian opposition.
Haass has come to accept the conventional D.C. wisdom that Obama is too passive overseas during the same period when Obama has committed the U.S. to fight and support new wars of choice, which were the very things he was saying the U.S. should reject just a few years ago. The assessment that Obama has done “too little” abroad is at odds with Obama’s record of frequent activism, and if future historians base their interpretations on Obama’s actions instead of the spin put on them by contemporary critics they aren’t likely to share Haass’ complaint.