Policy Feature Issue: State of the Union – President Obama’s Foreign Policy Strategy: Leading From Behind
As President Obama delivered the State of the Union, minds undoubtedly reflected on the state of America in the international community. A partial review of the President’s foreign policy record reveals disturbing trends: naiveté; failure to appreciate and adapt to changing threats; lack of follow-through; and policies driven by public opinion, rather than a broad foreign policy strategy. These trends stem from the President’s policy of “leading from behind”—an approach that has, instead, resulted in an absence of leadership. America’s reputation abroad has suffered, influence has diminished, and relationships with key allies have been weakened. Meanwhile, continuing conflict in the Middle East and increasing instability in the Asia-Pacific region strain U.S. resources and capabilities.
The President has failed to appreciate the changing face of terrorism. In emphasizing a decline of al Qaeda in its previous form, he has failed to appreciate and respond to persistent and growing threats to the U.S. by terrorists and radical extremists.
The attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi evidenced this fact. Investigations by House Republicans have revealed the Administration’s disturbing lack of preparedness. A failure to recognize the danger presented on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks caused the White House to be caught flat-footed, unable to protect Americans serving abroad. Following the attacks, the Administration perpetuated a narrative that misled the American people about its mistakes.
The crisis in Syria revealed the Administration’s lack of understanding, strategy, and follow-through. By carelessly drawing a red line, the President committed to American involvement that he later, understandably, could not deliver. When seeking the use of military force, the President was unable to articulate a clear strategy or framework for assessing success. The Administration’s failure to enforce its red line weakened America’s credibility in other critical developments.
Despite the President’s commitment to preventing the spread of dangerous weapons, decreased U.S. credibility has weakened our hand in carrying out this commitment. This is especially critical in our efforts to prevent Iran from developing or obtaining a nuclear weapon. The recent interim agreement further exacerbates the problem, providing sanctions relief to Iran—which reduces our negotiating leverage—while allowing Iran’s nuclear program to continue.
These dynamics have weakened America’s relationships with key allies. The President promised to stand steadfast with Israel. Yet U.S. actions regarding Iran, an ambiguous posture in responding to the Arab Spring, has been detrimental to our relationship with the strongest ally in the region.