President Barack Obama: Foreign Approach

President Barack Obama served as the 44th President of the United States of America. As a member of the Democratic party, his legacy constitutes the idea and hope of the American dream. Other than being the first sitting African American president elected, his administration had new wave of foreign approach than those of his predecessors. In this case, we witness an expansion of executive powers due to the fact that President Barack Obama requested military force without the consent of congress.

Over the years, it is no surprise that congressional power has been transferring into the executive branch. Obama’s approach to act without congressional approval only shows the assurance of the executive power in the sense of the position of commander of chief leading it’s military force. Yet, that is not the only reason why executive power has increased in Obama’s presidency. Over the years, the legislative branch has given up war powers to the presidency directly to the fact that Congress does not want to hold responsibility on deciding whether to speak strategic decisions in foreign asserations.

The President’s initiatives towards foreign policy has involved the troops in Afghanistan, the assassination of of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, NATO intervention in Libya, trade negotiations with China, negotiations of nuclear arms reductions with other state actors, etc. Even though Barack Obama has many foreign policy credentials, he was stymied with what was left from his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama was faced with obstacles that he had to fix, domestically and globally.

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He was trying to devote majority of his time focusing on top domestic issues before concentrating on foreign disputes, where his political expertise does not occupy. According to John R. Bolton(2010), the best way to predict Obama’s foreign policy in the next three years lies not in examining how he deals with the accumulated baggage of Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace, and the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The baggage from his predecessor was impossible to ignore global issues. His political ideology leans towards grandfathering the idea of multilateralism. Obama’s goal is to finish his terms celebrating various political achievements in a morally strategy. The penchant of multilateralism, which means multiple alliances coming together for a common goal, was engraved in Obama’s era so much that many criticized him for not proclaiming American exceptionalism through the process. Former American Presidents, not surprisingly, gained many critics—especially in regards of Global affairs. In this case, Bobby Jindal, a republican, stated about Barack Obama:

“There’s a greater problem here. This is a president who won’t proudly proclaim American exceptionalism, maybe the first president ever who truly doesn’t believe in that. Look at his foreign policy. Doesn’t believe America as a force for good, it doesn’t seem. Seems like instead, he believes in multilateralism as a goal, not a tactic. He allows foreign capitals to have veto power over our foreign policy.”

Jindal accusations towards Obama were somewhat wrong. Obama has made know on his position towards American exceptionalism— numerous times. For example, Obama first mentioned the school of thought back in April 2009 during a press conference. Edward Luce from Financial Times asked(2009),” …Could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?” Obama gives a lengthy answer by describing his stance:

“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional. Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us. And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.”

People were confused in his position whether he was for or against the school of thought since he mentioned that American exceptionalism is no different than that of other countries’ exceptionalism. Many believed that saying that other countries are exceptiontional completely crosses out the whole meaning of American exceptionalism. Mitt Romney articulated a point by saying that President Obama clearly does not share the same feelings as himself and others about it [American exceptionalism]. Some political actors recognize the term to be the idea of United States being the “city upon the hill” that you are called upon to actively lead the rest of the world to a better future(Hilde Eliassen Restad, 2005). Obama’s recognition of the word differentiate from that of the traditional meaning—or is it? As stated with John R. Bolton(2010), Obama is post- American. We are seeing this new historical shift of the president celebrating American virtues engaging by working with other nations and alliances for equal efforts of a better global interests rather than intimating them. During a speech in the UN, Obama has presented the ideology of that of Woodrow Wilson’s. UN held a General Assembly where Obama stated:

.”…But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 — more than at any point in human history — the interests of nations and peoples are shared…In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War…”

This is in the form of “community power” and an “organized common peace” rather than a world of rivalries or importance of leading as dominant world power, as Wilson once encouraged back in 1916. He advocated that other nation’s interests should be that of the United States’ concern. Many scholars think that Obama had adopted an Wilsonian political atmosphere in his foreign approach. Obama’s reach of multilateralism and his definition, knowing Woodrow Wilson advocated this form of ideology back in 1916, American exceptionalism has created new era of post-America—where American leadership is presented in a global helping hand rather than United States being the paramount of the world.

Now to the Obama’s foreign credentials — the Middle East and North Africa. Wars such as the Iraq war was one of the predecessor’s baggage that was left for the next President to handle. This war had polarized and left everyone questioning from around the world. Obama had to establish his foreign approach and he did so in the Cairo speech in 2009:

“… I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings…”

Obama set his foot to urge a new friendly relationship between Americans and Muslims to fight common issues and share common goods. This was the President’s initial approach striking a peace around the world. His administration fought strongly for a “doctrine of Strategic Absence”.(Paul Williams, 2016). This strategic plan was intent to understand that sometimes it is better to be absent than be involved— in foreign affairs. This will decrease the tension between United States and the Middle East and implement the lesson that was experienced back in the Vietnam War. This lesson involves United States to not intervene to one war if it means no significant influence towards U.S. interest, especially when it is a losing cause. The Obama administration implement this doctrine to the framework of Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen regimes. This doctrine engagement was hard to implement due to various episodes going on in these countries. Anti-American sentiment engaging in Pakistan to Yemen which concluded a drones-first policy being passed. Libya on the verge of war between the government and rebels which lead up to the killings of three Americans and an U.S. ambassador. Syria was being suspected of using chemical weapons against their own people—”the most catastrophic humanitarian crisis any us us have seen in a generation,” said United Nations ambassador Samantha Power. All these countries were facing civil wars, humanitarian crisis, violence, and the birth of various terrorist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS). In the midst of everything, many criticize Obama for not having a policy vis-a-vis on the issue. But he did have an approach for it, it was just not put on paper or publicly legitimized. During Obama’s 8 years of foreign actions, he fought against threats through the ideology of strategic absence. The president made it clear about Iraq having to do what needs to be done to securing their government by saying:

“…But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region…”

This is where obama’s multilateralism takes in place. United States can intervene but it will not work if the countries themselves do not try to change up things. When countries work all together to implement change than the world will be easier to handle. Obama wanted to minimize military involvement within iraq’s borders. The goal was to turn countries, like Iraq, into an engaging political transition to an inclusive and pluralistic democracy(Paul Williams, 2016).

Another event that strategic absence was used was in Libya. The approach strategy was to neutralizing the Gaddafi regime. Instead of the United States forces intervening, an unilateral move was implemented to latter the issue—which would be the utilization of institutions like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO), International Criminal Court, and United Nations Security Council. This diminishes the chances of U.S. military intervention enacting to fight Gaddafi establishment. This inclusive strategy has United States play a teamwork effort with other countries to solve this foreign dispute. U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes were deployed throughout Obama’s presidency. Just like U.S Congress ceded major powers to the executive branch so did United States flag of leadership in the Libyan conflict. The post-doctrine was the involvement of Obama administration and the UN maintaining peace in Libya by nation building—and democratizing it.

In Egypt, Obama decided to do a full on absence in this case. Various presidents before Obama had shown deterrence towards Egypt. President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, grew to be a dictator and committing various human rights violation. Obama led a limited “leading from behind” policy within Libya’s borders whilst the conflict in Egypt arises. At the moment, United States could not approach any intervention in Egypt because there was no good outcome of chances if they did. Obama spoke on the matter by saying:

“…if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

This leads us to the problem that Obama, at the time, was currently invested to worry about—Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS). The administration understood that ISIS was more of threat to Americans and around the world than anything else. Obama decided that the strategic absence doctrine is not the way to handle this situation. He called for the overthrow of President Assad and willing to use force to act due to chemical weapons used on Assad’s own people. The durability of this doctrine has reached to believe that it just benefited American interests and the lessons learned from Vietnam War: to not intervene in a dispute that is a losing cause or does not gain much of American interests.

Barack Obama roots from Woodrow Wilson ideology. His position on foreign policy is very much multilateralism and a doctrine involving absence. He encourages United States to celebrate how they have the resources to work with other countries and establish global leadership for common interests. In the works of Libya, the Obama Administration ceded power to UN to solve the issue in return to not deploy American troops within foreign borders In the 21st century, Americans noticed a new change of foreign policy that could mean a step forward to an alliance of global peace.

Works cited

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  • Bolton, J. R. . A. ambassador. (2010). Obama’s Next Three Years: The president isn’t interested in foreign policy, but his ideas and his approach mark him as the first “post-American” president. Commentary, (1), 24. Retrieved from
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  • Zaarour, K. M. (2015). Restad, Hilde Eliassen. American exceptionalism: an idea that made a nation and remade the world. CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, (3), 497. Retrieved from

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President Barack Obama: Foreign Approach. (2021, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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