On the May 29 edition of CNBC’s Squawk Box, Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, conceded that he could not name a single nation where relations have improved with the United States since President Obama took office six years ago. Engel generally stays above the political fray, so this admission about the president’s foreign policy is revealing.
Responding to further questioning by Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, Engel asserted that the reason why relations with foreign nations haven’t improved is due to the fact that “our allies have become confused.” [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Engel went on to elaborate on a very common argument against this president’s foreign policy; that, oftentimes, it lacks purpose and seems aimless:
You now have a president who is pulling out very rapidly. And that is creating a kind of pump action, a vortex of instability that has left allies like Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, like even some European countries very confused. Are we going in? Are we pulling out? Are we leading? Are we trying to set the agenda? There has been a lot of frustration.
In 2009, Engel was quick to note how receptive the Muslim world was to Obama’s speech in Cairo. Now, it seems the reporter has done a 180, recognizing not simply that the president’s foreign policy has largely failed to ingratiate America with the Islamic world, but that the Middle East in now in a state of chaos:
Right now we have a black hole in Syria. Iraq is in a state of collapse. Libya is about to go back into a civil war. And this was the one case where we intervened militarily. So I think there is a lot of problems on the horizon in the foreign policy world just because you are off-ramping in Afghanistan.
It is certainly a positive sign that at least some in the media are taking a more critical look at the president’s foreign policy, although it remains to be seen how much of this will work its way into Engel’s reporting. CNBC has nowhere near the viewership of the NBC Nightly News.
Too often the media are unwilling to admit their mistakes, but Engel did so here–albeit tacitly. Being unable to name a single nation with which U.S. relations have improved is quite a powerful indication– as Mr. Langone noted– about the president’s foreign policy.
Below is a transcript from a portion of the Squawk Box segment:
May 29, 2014
8:22 a.m. Eastern
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC News chief foreign correspondent: Well, I–so the question is, why are they criticizing his foreign policy when this is a president that has gotten the United States or is getting the United States out of two unpopular foreign wars? Is that basically live the question?
JOE KERNAN, host: I think the question was, he did not talk yesterday about the reset with Russia that didn't work. He didn't talk about the pivot with China that didn't work.
ENGEL: That never happened, yeah.
KERNAN: He didn’t talk about the failure with the Palestinian Israel question, uh, and he didn’t talk about the red line in Syria. They go over about five or six things that weren’t mentioned. But I think most Americans– I think the left is perfectly happy. I'm not sure where I stand. No one had the stomach for more foreign involvement. And I think McCain’s had seven different instances where he is like –he's ready to send in troops at the drop of the hat. I don't think any American had the stomach for that anymore, so I’m not sure where I come down on that.
KEN LANGONE, Home Depot founder: Name me one country where we have better relations–I’m sorry. I'll ask my question after you're done.
ENGEL: Oh no,no I’m sorry. I can't figure out where one person is talking when I’m supposed to talk because I can't see you. The way I kind of think about it– go ahead.
LANGONE: Name one country with whom we have better relationships today than we did when he became president of the United States almost six years ago?
ENGEL: Uh, I–you would naturally want to say Europe. But generally the relations with a lot of European countries have gotten worse because of these relationships. And this is sort of what I was about to say.
LANGONE: I can name all the countries where the relationships have gotten worse. I'm asking you to give me one country where they have gotten better.
ENGEL: Yeah. I think you would be hard pressed to find that. And I think this is the reason–
LANGONE: Isn’t that a measure of foreign policy?
ENGEL: Even our allies –yeah. And I think the reason is our allies have become confused. For eight years you had the Bush administration with a very interventionist policy, driving into world affairs, driving primarily into the Islamic world army first, or fist first. And that was very unpopular with many of our allies. But toward the end, after 8 years, people adjusted to it. Now you have a presidency that for the last six years is pulling out very rapidly. And that is creating a kind of pump action, a vortex of instability that has left allies like Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, like even some European countries very confused. Are we going in? Are we pulling out? Are we leading? Are we trying to set the agenda? That has been a lot of frustration. So in terms of the foreign policy objectives laid out in West Point, yes, he talked about ending these two unpopular wars. But I do sympathize with some of the things said in the Wall Street Journal. Right now we have a black hole in Syria. Iraq is in a state of collapse. Libya is about to go back into a civil war. And this was the one case where we intervened militarily. So I think there is a lot of problems on the horizon in the foreign policy world just because you are off-ramping in Afghanistan.
KERNAN: Richard, we’re gonna need you again. I wish we didn’t because I don’t know what’s gonna happen in Ukraine, I’m reading the violence escalating and it almost seems like the Ukrainians that are in power now are going to try to root out the separatists. And I don't know how that is going to play. We have one of Putin's guys saying that the U.S. is trying to start a third world war by backing Ukraine. We will need you to talk about that. We only have 30 seconds left, but, uh, we need to stay tuned on that.
ENGEL: Well, watch the city of Donetsk. It's the biggest industrial city in the east. A curfew has been put in place there. The people are worried that there is going to be a military intervention by the Ukrainian government to drive out separatists. That could be a turning point moment. It's a big city. That's my 30-second answer.
KERNAN: Great. I know we're a business network. I don't know why we are so fascinated whenever we have you on, but we are. We appreciate your time today, Richard. Thank you.
ENGEL: My pleasure, absolutely.