Perhaps the short-term gains that Obama has secured will be worth the drone strikes that kill innocents and spark anger, an al-Qaeda branch in Yemen that is better able to recruit, a Pakistan that's less stable after the bin Laden raid, and the norm that cyber-warfare is kosher. Or maybe not. Either way, it's difficult to see how his Middle East policy is supposed to be an example of long term thinking. (The diplomatic work he's done in the Pacific rim is a better example of longer-term thinking.)
Packer goes on to state what specifically impresses him about Obama's foreign policy:
Think about how much Obama has done well that could have gone very
badly. He withdrew from Iraq after eight years of war in a way that left
the U.S. with almost no influence--but he could have tried to force
matters with the Iraqis and left behind far more bitterness. He tried to
reverse the erosion that he inherited in Afghanistan, and he had to
try, but once that failed he prevented his military from trapping him
into an indefinite ground war and outlined a plan for withdrawal (which
will be better for America than it will for Afghanistan). In Libya, the
grounds for intervention were initially misleading, and the result will
not be a happy place, but the NATO campaign went a lot
better than skeptics expected, and Libya without Qaddafi is a better
thing for Libyans and the rest of the world. On Syria, the
Administration was too slow in isolating Assad, but no one has made a
case for intervention that has a plausibly good outcome
This is the sort of evaluation that only looks impressive if we grade on a George W. Bush curve. Obama has done nothing nearly as catastrophic as the invasion of Iraq. And it's true that various matters he's grappled with could've gone worse. But in Iraq, Obama did in fact try to negotiate a longer-term U.S. presence in the country. Rebuffed by the Iraqi leadership, he exited on the time-frame established by his predecessor. That was the right decision. It was more commonsensical than far-sighted.
As for Afghanistan, Packer himself says Obama's surge of troops there failed. As Packer sees it, this also had to be done anyway. I am not sure why a president deserves credit for implementing a failed policy that he was allegedly compelled to implement. And as noted, the aftermath of the Libya campaign -- which is still unfolding -- makes it uncertain that the Libyan people or their neighbors will wind up better off due to NATO intervention. Without knowing what will happen in Libya, or nearby Mali, or elsewhere in North Africa, even over the next 6 months, how can Packer argue that the NATO campaign made everyone better off?
Packer continues, "On terrorism, he's devastated the top ranks of Al Qaeda, and if legally
dubious drone attacks are his means for doing so--well, life and foreign
policy are full of unpleasant trade-offs, and this is one I'm willing to
take." But the ranks of the terrorist organization keep being replenished as new recruits take up arms, reacting in part to the bombardment of their homelands by U.S. forces. Perhaps the drone strikes will ultimately make us safer. You never can tell. But Packer is guessing, and many people, including some Obama administration advisers, worry that our drone policy creates more terrorists than it kills. Other observers aren't willing to dismiss the illegality so blithely. The separation of powers matter, as does the War Powers Resolution.