One word of caution for readers: I attended a school where most of my classes were graded on a curve, so I don’t do grade inflation.
Overall: C As someone who tries to adhere to the admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”, I see little harm in listening more and talking to all the players on the world stage; however, implied in that admonition is forceful talk and action when required. In this light, there’s been little talk or anger of consequence on the national security front in the first 100 days, despite all that has transpired. Considering the President’s inexperience with national security issues, and the deluge of problems he’s faced, a passing grade is a praiseworthy achievement.
National Security Strategy: Incomplete, and my sense is the due date on this assignment is not far off. I suspect that Gen. Jones is laboring mightily on one, but excessive delays may send a message that global security problems are something to be reacted to and not planned for. You can’t shape the world if you don’t have any blueprints from which to work.
Maritime Strategy: B With the current strategy being relatively new and day-to-day operations continuing to align with the strategy, the working assumption is that the last order will remain in force. I have some concerns, however, that resources may continue to be short and not necessarily optimized for the strategy. Increased counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa are promising, though they remain a treatment for the symptoms rather than a cure.
Afghanistan/Pakistan: A Efforts in Af/Pak have been well played to date. Pressure is up on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Washington seems to have finally convinced Lahore that they can’t just look the other way on the problems building in their western provinces. The nation building and stabilization proposals have promise, but the execution is in doubt.
Iraq: B While the current plan differs little from the previous administration’s, I was not enthusiastic about it then, either. Right now in Iraq, to get an A one must only not screw it up or allow someone else to screw it up. Recent upticks in bombings and Sunni discontent threaten to screw it up, and there are no signs the current administration is reassessing.
The Middle East: B While the Administration has not undercut Israel’s desire that any Palestinian state recognize Israel and has voiced its support for a two-state solution, the resumption of funding for Iranian-backed Hamas and efforts to make an end run around legal limits are troubling and unlikely to produce any useful concessions. In addition, with Iran pulling most of the strings on the Palestinian side, it’s unlikely the Administration will be able to make a deal possible without taking on Iran.
North Korea/Iran: D The Administration appears to have resigned itself to Iran, and as a result, North Korea and probably Syria going nuclear. Scaling back plans for land-based missile defense only magnify the potential consequences of the failure. Lots of talk was dedicated to increasing dialogue and trying new ideas, but nothing significant has been produced—or even proposed—to date. North Korea and Iran desperately want to be recognized as being legitimate and influential, so in that context silence is assent and expanding ties is approval. The good news for the White House is, this grade is probably capped at a “B”.
China: C The Impeccable incident was a strong signal from the PRC that America is not necessarily welcome to operate in China’s desired sphere of influence. The response from Adm. Blair that the incident represented a serious problem was the right one, but it should have come from the mouth of the President. In addition, the signal that the U.S. would not publicly hold the PRC accountable over a safe issue like human rights leaves me wondering in what area the Administration would ever express criticism. In the positive column, however, the U.S. continues to press China to explain the purposes behind the rapid expansion of its naval forces and maintain an increased presence in the region to counterweight China’s growing influence. The signals are mixed and inconsistent between Defense and State, which is never good.
Russia: D In 100 days the Administration has managed to give away its best leverage against Russia—missile defense and NATO expansion—and probably send a signal that Russia has a free hand in its near abroad. Russian meddling in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have gone unacknowledged in Washington, and if Russia consummates a de facto takeover of any of these states, this grade will tip to an F.