The end of the year provides opportunity for review of the year's events. We take the opportunity to offer our view of the Top 5 Lowlights and Highlights of the year 2009 in US foreign policy.
1. Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has been going on eight years; longer than Vietnam or either of the World Wars. The US has been losing ground to the Taliban and has stretched into Pakistan. US hopes for an increasingly unpopular war now rely on a military surge which helped stabilize the Iraqi situation but did little to bring the US closer to victory.
2. Iran. The Iranian nuclear weapons program is still going strong. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is still in power and "busting heads" of protesters. America has not succeeded to change Iranian policy through sanctions or through engagement and friendlier rhetoric. Hopes for change in Iran lie with the brave people in green who stand for protest for freedom and democracy.
3. Africa. President Bill Clinton said his biggest regret was not doing more to stop the 1990s genocide in Rwanda. In 2009, Africa is stricken with genocide in Darfur, the atrocities of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, pirates in Somalia, the UN battling rebels in the Congo and placing sanctions on Eritrea and widespread urban crime and violence. Fifteen years after the Rwandan genocide, the West still really does not care about Africa. At least not very much.
4. Iraq. The good news: Iraq is a far less violent place than it was five years ago and US troops are being sent home. The bad news: There are still plenty of IEDs and anti-American sentiments. Plus, the Iraqi government is susceptible to Iranian influence.
5. Guantanamo. The delay in shutting down the prison in Guantanamo is reminiscent of Congress not wanting to seem weak on terrorism during the vote on the invasion of Iraq. American prisons want Guantanamo's prisoners. Highly trained and valuable US soldiers are being utilized as prison guards for people who should be executed, set free or receive justice in the land where they committed their atrocities.
-- Latin America. Kidnappings in Phoenix, executions in Juarez, Chavez stirring the pot in Venezuela, support for Zelaya in Honduras and slow progress with Cuba make Latin America a weak spot in foreign policy in 2009.
-- China. The US and China are not adversaries. However, the two countries are far from friends, which seems strange considering the tremendous economic linkages, the number of Chinese studying and living in America and common geopolitical interests such as curbing international terrorism and extremism.
1. Restoring hope and faith in the US. The Obama Administration, regardless of the relative merits of the Nobel Peace Prize, has brought hope to the rest of the world that the US will bring moral and steady leadership in the 21st century.
2. Russia. Secretary Clinton hoped to reset the relationship with Russia. While the US-Russian relationship is not as friendly as the Clinton-Yeltsin years, the palpable acrimony during the later years of the Putin regime is no longer apparent, and Presidents Obama and Medvedev appear to be making headway on arms control negotiations.
3. Middle East peace. Is the world close to a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Not at all. Nonetheless, the fact that Israel's Likud government led by Benjamin Netanyahu has re-engaged, publicly stated acceptance of some form of a two-state solution and agreed to freeze the majority of settlements is no small feat. Obama and Clinton deserve credit for their renewed effort and results, albeit somewhat limited results.
4. Response to the economic crisis. 2009 saw the US provide leadership to try to stimulate the global economy and add financial regulation. While the worldwide economic growth is still sluggish, most economists believe the worst is over.
5. NATO. The decision to delay NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine was a smart one, as was the decision to accept Albania and Croatia. In addition, the US has managed to garner some additional international support for the surge in Afghanistan.
-- Old Europe. Two years ago, the US was criticized for forsaking Old or Western Europe in favor of New or Eastern Europe. This is no longer the case.