The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

August 25, 2013

For Obama, world looks far different than expected

WASHINGTON — Nearly five years into his presidency, Barack Obama confronts a world far different from what he envisioned when he first took office. U.S. influence is declining in the Middle East as violence and instability rock Arab countries. An ambitious attempt to reset U.S. relations with Russia faltered and failed. Even in Obama-friendly Europe, there's deep skepticism about Washington's government surveillance programs.

In some cases, the current climate has been driven by factors outside the White House's control. But missteps by the president also are to blame, say foreign policy analysts, including some who worked for the Obama administration.

Among them: miscalculating the fallout from the Arab Spring uprisings, publicly setting unrealistic expectations for improved ties with Russia and a reactive decision-making process that can leave the White House appearing to veer from crisis to crisis without a broader strategy.

Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department official who left the administration in 2011, said that while the shrinking U.S. leverage overseas predates the current president, "Obama has sometimes equated 'we have no leverage' with 'there's no point to really doing anything'."

Obama, faced most urgently with escalating crises in Egypt and Syria, has defended his measured approach, saying America's ability to solve the world's problems on its own has been "overstated."

"Sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations," he said. "We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests."

The strongest challenge to Obama's philosophy on intervention has come from the deepening tumult in the Middle East and North Africa. The president saw great promise in the region when he first took office and pledged "a new beginning" with the Arab world when he traveled to Cairo in 2009.

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