Barack Obama on Foreign Policy

Last Updated : Aug 08, 2012


President Obama's foreign policy has been dominated by five items, his pre-election statements, Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Each of those countries is dealt with individually under President Obama's profile. Additional countries, such as Venezuela are addressed seperately, and although other countries and other subjects such as trade, nuclear weapons, and energy effect foreign policy the middle east has dominated his Presidency to date.

2008 Election

During the 2008 Presidential election, Senator Obama was very specific in terms of the overall policy. "Strong nations and strong leaders talk to their enemies" was the mantra and overall view was a more humble policy where the US interacted with all countries, involved the UN or NATO where possible, and allowed the nations of the world to solve their own problems. This would coupled with ending the war in Iraq ASAP and winding down the war in Afghanistan while still winning it. Nation building was not to be a goal of the Obama administration.

The Bush Doctrine

President Obama's predecessor had his foreign policy boiled down to one idea: if a nation threatens you, attack it before it can attack you. Known as the "Bush Doctrine" President Bush's policy was called "cowboy diplomacy" by his opponents. This included not only the actions of President Bush in creating the Guantanamo Bay prison, going into other countries to attack terrorist bases, and seeming to disregarg the opinions of other nations on Iraq, but it also included a mentality of US superiority.

The Obama Doctrine

Looking at President Obama's actions in Libya, Syria, and Pakistan, a consistent pattern emerges. First, diplomatic relations are used in an attempt to address the issues present under that regime. If discussions fail, US sanctions are applied and the UN is asked to intervene and provide legal authority for action. Sanctions are then applied through both the US and the UN. If UN authority is given, action is taken. However, if a threat exists or an opportunity presents itself, action is still taken without UN support and even in opposition to UN policies or rules. Thus President Obama's doctrine on foreign policy is to intervene in nations to assist the overthrow of a regime, but to do so at the request of the rebel group and only where a good chance of victory is present. If the US or UN does not agree to fund or legally justify these interventions, they still go forward but only in a covert manner. 

This doctrine was seen in Libya and Syria where President Obama intervened without US approval, and overstepped the UN Security Council Resolution guidelines. Despite a rebuttal to a similar resolution on Syria, the President has still continued to assist those rebels. Despite a similar uprising in Iran, no action was taken. When an opportunity arose to kill Osama Bin Laden, President Obama gave the go ahead without notifying the Pakistani government.


The Arab Spring's first main target was Egypt. President Obama remained mostly quiet on the revolution there until such time that it could be justified on a humanitarian basis. He did not initially support the uprising's political objectives as the Mubarik regime was friendly towards the US, but he spoke up to help prevent the regime and the military from putting down the rebellion through force.


Unlike Egypt, the Libyan regime acted to quell the uprising quickly and violently. This made the success of the rebellion unlikely. President Obama initailly called for the Qaddafi regime to show restraint in deailing with the civilians caught up in the fighting, and the US placed sanctions on Qaddafi regime.

As the fighting continued and it became obvious that Qaddafi could put down the revolt, stronger sanctions were applied, the CIA was authorized to work within Libya, and the UN was convinced to enact a no-fly zone over Libya. The US initially took the lead in enacting the no-fly zone and extended actions to bombing ground sites, Qaddafi's house, and a number of other places. 

As the rebels began to take ground in Libya, the US stepped down its role. The administration also asserted that arming the rebels was an option despite the UN resolution expressly forbiding the action. The reason given for this was that the mandate in the new resolution to protect the civilians overrode the previous resolution.

The Libyan action also caused controversy at home and abroad. The Arab League and others were upset that the US went well beyond the mandate of the UN Security Council Resolution and US representatives argued that the action did not have constitutional authority.


Just as in Libya, President Obama did not act on or address the uprising in Syria until the regime began to clamp down on it. Once that occured, US sanctions were put in place and those sanctions were strengthened when diplomacy failed. Once again, President Obama signed an intelligence finding authorizing the CIA to operate in Libya and he began to support the rebels verbally and militarily. This support included coordinating the rebellion from a base in southern Turkey and non-lethal support materials. The rebellion is also allowed to raise money in the US while sanctions are in place against the Syrian petroleum industry.

The key difference between Libya and Syria was that while the UN Security Council provided a resolution to use force in Libya, a similar resolution was vetoed several times by China and Russia.

Iraq and Afghanistan

President Obama assumed office after running a campaign in which he repeatedly pledged to withdraw 1-2 brigades a month and have the US out of Iraq within 16 years. The withdraw from Iraq took roughly 20 months longer to complete, and a large number of troops remain there. The final withdraw was also prompted only after Iraq refused to grant a SOF Agreement that included no prosecution from American soldiers.

President Obama campaigned on increasing the war effort in Afghanistan and increased the number of troops there to finish the job. As his presidency winds down, there are more troops in that country than when he assumed office.


Indianapolis Star Interview

In April of 2008, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star and asked about Iran. Senator Obama noted that Hamas and other entities were not states, but rather terrorist organizations. He stated that he would meet directly with the leaders of states like Syria and Iran without preconditions.


Strong Countries Talk to Their Adversaries

At a campaign event during the 2008 Presidential election, Senator Obama stated that "Strong countries and strong leaders talk to their adversaries." He stated that this was what Reagan did with Russia and Nixon did with Mao. He stated that countries the size of Iran do not pose a serious threat to the United States.


Authority for War - Armed Services Committee

On March 9, 2012 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Jeff Sessions asks the SoD a series of questions concerning President Obama's actions in Libya and the authority to go to war. In answering those questions, the SoD asserts that a UN Resolution is sufficient authority to go to war. He also asserts that in determining whether or not the US should take military action, the 


Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.

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