2015-in-Review: Desperately Seeking U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs

It sounds like a simple assignment: list 10 U.S. foreign policy triumphs of 2015. OK, make that five. Can we maybe find three? Two? After all, President Obama has pivoted to foreign policy as the centerpiece of his second term, and Secretary of State John Kerry has logged a gazillion miles of diplomatic travel, punctuated by marathon talks, capped by "historic" deals. So, how's that working out?

As it turns out, there's no need to make your own list. The State Department has assembled one for us, posted on State's blog by spokesman John Kirby. Actually, State posted it and first sent it out by email on Dec. 24. Apparently someone thought it needed more attention; State re-sent it yesterday.

As Kirby explains it, the list was inspired by a note-to-staff from Kerry, "summing up a busy year and charting the course ahead." That led Kirby to draw up his list, to which he added the gimmick of "a great hashtag -- which was recently trending on Twitter" -- #2015in5words (as it happens, this hashtag has chiefly become a magnet for five-word comic variations on 2015 being the year in which "everyone was offended by everything" -- but never mind).

Thus do we have State's self-laudatory list of "The Year-in-Review: Pivotal Foreign Policy Moments of 2015." Each moment is summed up in five words with an accompanying paragraph and video clip, meant to show "significant success across a range of issues."

Actually, what most of this list suggests, to interpret it kindly, is that the State Department has decamped from Planet Earth and is by now operating in an alternate universe. This is alarming because the rest of us are pretty much stuck with the real-world fallout.

Kirby does not assign any priority to the items on the list (we are left to infer what's most important), but here are some of the highlights, accompanied by my own notes on these pivotal moments:

-- Winning Fight Against Violent Extremists. Stop the presses! When in 2015 did this significant success take place? And how did we do it? The explanation, as State tells it, is that in February, the White House hosted a "monumental summit" on countering violent extremism (abbreviated as CVE, which seems to be the current offshoot of  "Overseas Contingency Operations"). This summit "launched an ongoing global CVE effort now underway that reaches throughout the world and across countless nations." (Countless nations! Is everyone feeling better now?)

-- Bringing Peace and Security to Syria. This seems to overlap with the previous item, but perhaps in the search for 10 successes, State was willing to pad the list. In any event, how was this particular success -- not exactly visible on the ground -- achieved in 2015? State explains: "under Kerry's stewardship, in December, the United Nations Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution." That resolution puts forward a roadmap. That roadmap will "facilitate a transition within Syria," and so forth. In sum, there is now a UN resolution. What could go wrong?

-- Iran Peaceful Nuclear Program Ensured. This is the foreign-policy version of "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" -- except even more absurd, and potentially more deadly, because it effectively ensures Iran can get the bomb. Perhaps there are even some folks at State who suspect the Iran nuclear deal is a complete farce (surely they've noticed that Iran is already in violation). The Iran nuclear deal was supposed to be the landmark achievement of Obama's second term, so it's curious that this item, instead of topping State's 2015 list, appears merely as item four, not as item one. That distinction goes to the feat of buddying up with the worst dictatorship in the Western hemisphere.

-- Diplomatic Relations Re-established with Cuba. This was an achievement for the Castros. What did the U.S. get for it?

-- Strongest Climate Agreement Ever Negotiated. Translation: Based on controversial "science," appended to UN-style global central planning, sweetened with promises of billions in U.S. handouts, the Obama administration led the way to a global agreement that will be nonbinding on others, but which the administration will try to impose with pen, phone and Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the people of the United States. Anyone see a problem here?

There's more. The State Department is pleased to remind us that in 2015 Kerry formally assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, promising to protect Arctic ecosystems. Kerry also attended a conference in Chile on the oceans, to which he is personally devoted. And at the UN General Assembly, the U.S. committed itself to ambitious new UN global development goals, with Obama assuring the UN eminences that they could count on the generosity of the American people. The past year also brought diplomatic agreement on a Trans-Pacific trade deal so lengthy and complex that analysts are still debating whether on balance it would encourage or throttle free markets.

Not that this 2015 list is entirely spin, fiction, fluff and flim-flam -- there's an item on "Stemming Tide of Ebola Outbreak." That sounds like a genuine success. Maybe State should have put it on a separate list.