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Obama’s Underachieving Foreign Policy

Barack Obama's foreign-policy achievements have been limited, largely owing to a complex diplomatic and strategic environment and significant domestic constraints. But Obama's own dogmatic pragmatism has done little to change strategic realities and reconcile America’s broader interests with those of other key global players.

PARIS – To evaluate an American president’s foreign-policy performance after one term is challenging, given the complex diplomatic and strategic environment and significant domestic constraints that confront every US president. Nevertheless, in advance of November’s presidential election, it is important to distinguish the forces that have shaped Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and to assess his handling of them.

Obama kept his promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq during his first term. But the move proved to be a strategic defeat, given that it significantly diminished the United States’ political influence in Iraq. Indeed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government is becoming increasingly allied with Iran. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, should not be blamed for current circumstances there. But he was unable to improve the situation or help Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis reach a political compromise.

In contrast, Obama expanded the war in Afghanistan – which he considered to be a war of necessity – and put the Taliban on the defensive. But the US will begin to withdraw troops after 2014, without having defined a political solution in line with its interests.

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