Obama’s Underachieving Foreign Policy

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.

Meanwhile, America’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, where Obama won a significant symbolic victory by eliminating Osama bin Laden, is in tatters. US-Pakistan relations have regressed to their level before September 11, 2001, with mutual distrust minimizing cooperation. In fact, in all of the strategic challenges to US security that Obama inherited – Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – he has made virtually no significant political gains.