The Spectacle Blog

Obama Squanders Credibility in Korea

By on 11.15.10 | 7:27PM

On Friday I noted that Obama's failure on the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is bad economic policy, but today Phil Levy persuasively argues that the geopolitical failure is even worse, and "[t]he implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan":

[T]here are really two distinct issues in contemplating the significance of the failed talks: the economic merits and questions of diplomatic competence. The latter is really the story of the day...

The concerns and obstacles that impede a new KORUS agreement were fully apparent in June when Obama announced he would have an agreement in time for the Seoul G-20 meetings (now underway). The announcement was remarkable at the time because so much of the U.S. president's statements on trade have been vague, aspirational, and timeless. This was a promise to have a specific agreement concluded by a specific date...

Reflecting on the health care battle, Obama recently told 60 Minutes, "When you're campaigning, I think you're liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘OK, how am I going to actually practically implement this.'" That may be true, but the rules change once a president takes office. Most White Houses are exceedingly careful about making such public commitments. If the president's credibility is to be put on the line, there is an absolute imperative to deliver. This is at least as true in international diplomacy as in domestic affairs. The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia....

Though he may not have foreseen all of the difficulties he would be facing at this juncture, last summer Obama named the time and place of his global credibility test. And he just failed it.

Here's more from the Heritage Foundation on what analyst Bruce Klingner calls a "collosal blunder."

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