How Bolivia Became Obama’s No. 1 Foreign Policy Screw-Up of the Year


What was President Obama’s biggest foreign policy screw-up of the year? There are several worthy contenders, but Dan Drezner nominates Obama’s decision to block the flight home of Bolivian President Evo Morales due to suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden might be on board:

Now, why was this such a big deal? It was a two-fer. First, in going after Snowden so aggressively, the administration put the lie to its claims that Snowden’s revelations weren’t that big of a deal….Second, and more significantly, the desperate and clumsy attempt to grab Snowden dramatically altered the perception by other governments about their preferences.

….When the U.S. forced Morales’ plane to make an emergency landing, [] Washington signaled that it was equally willing to f**k with the sovereignty franchise. At that point, all bets were off for countries predisposed to not helping the United States. Russia kept Snowden, Latin America kept polishing its resentment against the U.S., the rest of the world kept paying attention to Snowden’s revelations, and the United States lost significant hypocritical capabilities.

Would Snowden be in custody today if Obama hadn’t done this? Drezner figures there’s a good chance. I don’t happen to agree, since I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Russia would be willing to turn over an American spy, but it’s a plausible guess.

In any case, you can lump this together with the fallout from revelations about spying on foreign leaders and bulk collection of overseas data and documents, and it certainly puts the Snowden leaks in the top two foreign policy events of the year for the United States. I’d still put Iran ahead of it if the current talks produce a breakthrough, but that’s it. If the talks fail, or produce only modest progress, then Snowden will be a clear #1.

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