Derek H. Burney was Canada's ambassador to the U.S. from 1989 to 1993. He was directly involved in negotiating the free-trade agreement with the U.S. Fen Osler Hampson is a distinguished fellow and director of global security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chancellor's Professor at Carleton University. They are the authors of Brave New Canada: Meeting the Challenge of a Changing World.
President Barack Obama put himself in the confession box in his recent and much publicized interview in The Atlantic magazine with Jeffrey Goldberg. This is normally something that American presidents do after they leave office. But Mr. Obama is no ordinary president.
In his lengthy discourse, the President cast himself in the role of both sinner and priest as he absolved himself from his various acts of commission or omission. The President doled out lots of blame for his administration's shortcomings against allies, friends and even senior members of his own national security team. It was vintage Obama: at once reflective, defensive, didactic, professorial, unyielding, upbraiding.
The President expressed his own ambivalence about the Libyan operation where his decision to "lead from behind" masked the fact that much of the actual bombing campaign was carried out by U.S. forces. He points the finger at his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and his United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, the humanitarian hawks who championed military intervention to avert a bloodbath in Benghazi by Moammar Gadhafi's own forces. There is an "I-never-should-have-listened-to-them" tone to Mr. Obama's rumination about the Libyan debacle and its disastrous postscript. But where is Harry Truman's sign on Mr. Obama's desk that "the buck stops here"?
Mr. Obama also castigates his European allies for not doing more to pick up the pieces after Libya's Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall. The problem was in their own backyard, he notes. But surely he knows that Europeans are incapable of doing anything without American leadership even when a problem is right on their doorstep. That was something that George Herbert Walker Bush, a president Mr. Obama he says he greatly admires, grasped when Yugoslavia disintegrated.
Mr. Obama's prevarications in Syria damaged American standing in the region and created an opening for Russia's Vladimir Putin to fill the void. Mr. Obama said that he did not want to drag the United States into another costly fight after Iraq and Afghanistan and he may well have been right. Americans just weren't up to it. But when he drew red lines on Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons and then erased them almost as quickly as he had drawn them by declaring that he would not use force even in a limited way, he called his own bluff – something a great power should never do.
When Mr. Putin deployed his military into Syria, Mr. Obama said he was entering a quagmire. But Mr. Putin went in big and surgically, shored up his ally, Mr. al-Assad, and is now withdrawing. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama and his makeshift coalition remain stuck in the quagmire. Mr. Putin's ever-loyal foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, spins tales of ceasefire to an ever-gullible Secretary of State John Kerry and the savage stalemate continues.
The President also asserted that the Middle East doesn't really matter any more to core U.S. interests. He may well be right as the U.S. reduces its dependence on Middle Eastern oil with the development of its own oil and gas reserves. But the consequences of leaving Russia to project power and influence is having a ripple effect well beyond the Middle East. By helping Mr. al-Assad obliterate Syria's moderate opposition and sustain his frontal assault on major cities such as Aleppo, Mr. Putin has deepened the refugee crisis, which is tearing Europe apart.
Meanwhile, Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine have been unalterably pocketed by Russia and the international community, led by Mr. Obama, turns a blind eye to the flagrant violation of international law.
The two countries which can claim to have improved relations with the U.S. on Mr. Obama's watch are Cuba and Iran but, for many observers, the advantage gained has not been America's in either case.
Mr. Obama has also failed to sell the cornerstone of his much vaunted "pivot" toward Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Its chances of congressional approval this year seem dim at best. The current U.S. political climate is hostile to free trade of any kind. If TPP falters, Canada should strike its own bilateral deals with Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam to salvage much of the heavy lifting already done.
The President believes his greatest foreign policy legacy has been to keep the U.S. out of a major war. But is America's global credibility stronger than it was before his presidency?
Judging from the rhetoric in this year's primary campaign, Americans see little to celebrate either at home or abroad. Little wonder.