Barack Obama’s foreign policy record disappointed many people outside the US, notably in Europe and the Middle East. His speech in Cairo promised more reaching out. But it got complicated.
The US was slow to understand the significance of the Arab Spring uprisings. Egyptians waited to see the United States’ stand on new democracy for them.
Several countries’ changing leadership sent American diplomacy scrambling to improvise new policies in the region.
But what most mystified people who risked their lives to rebel against dictatorship was Obama’s failure to restart negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Others were disturbed that the president’s relations with Benjamin Netanyahu went cold at the prime minister’s urging for greater firmness towards Iran.
On the other hand, James Mann, who has written in depth about the Obama administration’s efforts to redefine US power, says its policy with the atomically ambitious Islamic Republic has worked.
Mann, with Johns Hopkins University, said: “The achievement has been that he has been able to win considerable international support for economic sanctions on Iran.”
Foreign policy specialist Jordan Tama at American University also praised Obama, as having set about taking care of unfinished business – so costly in lives and debt – left over from the Bush administration.
Tama said: “He has been very successful at taking out most of the leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen in particular, including Osama bin Laden, of course. He has also reduced the US military footprint in the Middle East, withdrawing from Iraq in a way that is responsible without Iraq descending into chaos or civil war and has started to withdraw from Afghanistan.”
Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution looked at after Obama’s troop withdrawal plans:
“I think there is a danger that the Taliban could take over Afghanistan and it’s one of the reasons why the United States, together with other outside parties to this effort, is trying very hard to send messages that we intend to keep helping after 2014.”
The American foreign ministry, known as the State Department, is responsible for the country’s international relations. It works to carry out policy decided by each successive occupant of the White House.