But the democracy protests that spread across the region quickly scrambled Obama's efforts. While the U.S. has consistently backed the rights of people seeking democracy, the violence that followed has often left the Obama administration unsure of its next move or taking tentative steps that do little to change the situation on the ground.
In Egypt, where the country's first democratically elected president was ousted last month, the U.S. has refused to call Mohammed Morsi's removal a coup. The ruling military, which the U.S. has financially backed for decades, has largely ignored Obama's calls to end assaults on Morsi supporters. And U.S. officials are internally at odds over whether to cut off aid to the military.
In Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed during the two-and-a-half year civil war, Obama's pledges that President Bashar Assad will be held accountable have failed to push the Syrian leader from office. And despite warning that Assad's use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" in Syria, there was scant American retaliation when he did use the toxic gases. On Sunday senior administration official said there is "very little doubt" that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in an incident that killed at least a hundred people last week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Few foreign policy experts predicted the Arab uprisings, and it's unlikely the U.S. could have — or should have — done anything to prevent the protests. But analysts say Obama misjudged the movements' next stages, including Assad's ability to cling to power and the strength of Islamist political parties in Egypt.
"The president has not had a long-term strategic vision," said Vali Nasr, who advised the Obama administration on foreign policy in the first term and now serves as dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "They're moving issue to issue and reacting as situations come up."