The election of Barack Obama, we were told, would bring new respect and friendship for America in the world.
No longer would we be led by a Texas cowboy ignorant of and indifferent to world opinion. Instead, we would have a visionary leader sympathetic to the governments and peoples of the world.
But Obama’s best moments in foreign policy have been when he follows the leads of predecessors. In his twice-postponed trip to Australia this week, he will reportedly announce that a U.S. Navy base will be opened there.
That cements ties already strengthened by George W. Bush and previous presidents to the one nation in the world that has fought alongside the United States in every war in the last century.
But domestic politics can trump foreign policy for Obama. He cancelled previous Australian trips to lobby the House to pass Obamacare and to respond to the Gulf oil spill.
Closer to home, crassly political ploys have angered the governments and peoples of our two geographical neighbors, Mexico and Canada.
Only domestic politics can explain two of the Obama administration’s most controversial moves: exporting illegal guns to Mexico and balking at building an oil pipeline from Canada.
The export of guns to Mexico was the whole point of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ Operation Fast and Furious.
Why ever would our government do such a thing? Conservative commentators have argued that the administration wanted to use evidence of deaths caused by guns illegally exported from the U.S. to spur demands for gun control laws here.
Democratic leaders have done that before. In 2009, Obama claimed that “more than 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States.” That claim was echoed by Hillary Clinton and Sens. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein.
But the statistic was bogus, as factcheck.org concluded. The 90 percent refers only to guns Mexican authorities submitted to the U.S. for tracing. The actual percentage of U.S. guns used in Mexican drug wars is unknown but is clearly far lower.
We don’t know for sure why the ATF and Justice Department embarked on Fast and Furious. Officials are keeping mum. But no one has come up with a more plausible explanation than the charge that it was intended to make a case for gun control at home.
In any case, Mexican citizens and government officials are understandably incensed. But maybe not as incensed as Canadians citizens and government officials are over the Obama administration’s decision to punt until after the 2012 election the decision on whether to allow the Canadian firm TransCanada to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to Oklahoma and Texas.
This was a crass political decision if there ever was one. The policy arguments for blocking the pipeline, first proposed in September 2008, are pathetically weak.
Environmentalists claim that Canadian oil sands production will release too much carbon dioxide. But if we block the pipeline, Canada will keep producing the oil and sell it to China.
Concern is also expressed that the pipeline will somehow pollute the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. But pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, and we’ve been building them for decades without polluting aquifers.
What is undisputed is that the KeystoneXL pipeline would create a lot of jobs in the United States — 20,000 directly and more indirectly, the Canadian firm says — and will provide us with about 7 percent of our imported oil.
That would be a big plus for energy independence. It would mean that we’d get more oil from a friendly neighbor and depend less on the Middle East and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
On this one, Obama even stiffed his usual allies, labor unions that are eager for pipeline jobs, and sided with the environmentalists who staged Occupy-type demonstrations outside the White House earlier this month.
To make points with them, he was quite willing to snub Canada, with whom we have shared the longest unfortified border in the world for more than a century.
A president who showed respect and friendship for the governments and peoples of other nations would not have connived in the smuggling of guns into Mexico and would not have blocked the import of oil from Canada.
But, on these and other foreign policy issues, we don’t have such a president right now. We have a presidential candidate with a negative job rating desperate for re-election.