Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy

Obama is perhaps the biggest game changer of our lifetime. Besides being the first African-American president, he enacted numerous major policy shifts and programs such as the Affordable Care Act and a financial stimulus package after the Great Recession, and he made progress in the battle against climate change. Domestic policy is where President Obama has made his biggest waves in the news and his greatest enemies.

He struggled to put many of his ideas into action due to two deadlocked Congresses and many strong enemies on the right. His presidency saw the increased popularization of the alt-right movement and alt-right media such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. The domestic side of the Obama administration’s agenda was an uphill battle.

While in office, Obama quietly changed United States foreign policy towards demilitarization. Inarguably, a president of the United States has more control over foreign policy than on any aspect of the presidency. President Obama used this control to take the United States out of wasteful warfare.

Obama had a clear doctrine when it came to dealing with foreign affairs. His doctrine, in practice, was to disentangle from conflicts in which the United States would be required to use ground troops or in which the United States clearly could not win. He ended the United States’ involvement in the war in Iraq under much criticism, and he progressed towards ending our involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Despite critics from all sides the aisle, President Obama steadfastly vowed not to send troops into Syria to combat ISIS, or to rescue Aleppo.

All three of these wars would have required thousands of troops to win. President Obama has clearly stated that he will not put the U.S. into wars that would require mass mobilization of troops to control. To him, if the United States cannot easily win a war with better technology and tactics, then it is a waste of American lives.

Obama could have easily sent troops into Syria to rout ISIS. But, drawing from the past experience of the Iraqi and Afghan Wars, there was no way of knowing how many troops would be needed or how long they would have to stay in war-torn regions. Despite criticism, Barack Obama knew he left a vacuum in Syria by not putting troops in the country. He had his eye on Vladimir Putin’s power play in the Middle East. President Obama let Putin throw Russian troops into the situation instead of risking American lives. Does that mean Putin gained the upper military hand in the Middle East? Probably. Did Barack Obama want to commit the troops it would take to gain control over the region? Probably not. This marked a decided shift in United States foreign policy from the Bush administration because Obama chose not to put troops in the area.

Jeff Goldberg, a journalist for the Atlantic and persistent follower of Obama’s foreign policy decisions, says Obama knew the Middle East “could not be fixed– not on his watch, and not for a generation to come,” which is why he knew putting troops into the region would prove catastrophic.

In 2001, President George W. Bush attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2003, he invaded Iraq as a part of his much divisive War on Terror and to eradicate “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” He threw American troops into a war with so few chances for success that it still persists in some form over 13 years later. President Obama knew the United States military could not keep up the pace. He deescalated both wars and began exit strategies. U.S. foreign policy under President Bush was marked by messy wars and strained foreign relations.

The role of the United States on the world stage has been questioned for decades. Theodore Roosevelt began the United States on a path towards interventionism. He saw the United States as a player in foreign affairs by putting the U.S. in Latin America and other struggling countries.

Many presidents have used the U.S. military to intervene in humanitarian affairs. These actions have been seen as crucial to good relations with Europe and rest of the world. The United States can be a force for good by using its military to help countries.

However, President Obama’s shift in foreign policy completely throws this theory on its head. Obama deescalated President Bush’s wars and chose not to put troops into Syria despite pressure to intervene. However unbelievable to his critics, Pew Research found that 77 percent of a sample from citizens of 10 European countries had confidence in Obama regarding world affairs. Also, 76 percent of a sample of people from Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and Poland had confidence in the United States to do the right thing in world affairs. George W. Bush, in the same grouping of countries, had 35 percent support. Despite taking our military out of our two biggest wars “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world” and our global leadership has not shrunk away at all, Obama says.

The difference is astonishing. Bush, who tried to use the military to assert the United States in world affairs to fight terrorists, got significantly lower marks than Obama who pulled the United States out of these crusades. In fact, when Obama enacted a major militarized foreign policy initiative in Libya, it was met with extreme criticism and was very unpopular overseas.

A U.S. foreign policy that resorts to diplomacy in place of “military adventures,” according to Obama, is extremely enticing. Humanitarian aid aside, we should not be throwing troops into doomed battles. We are stronger when we choose diplomatic routes like the Iran Deal and opening up Cuba. The United States does not need to show its strength by how much we fight but in the way we fight. Jumping into violent conflict is not the answer according to President Obama. President Obama even explicitly states that “the trajectory of this planet overall is one toward less violence.”

However, this does not mean President Obama was completely averse to violence. He not only continued President Bush’s use of drone strikes, he heavily increased it. As of early 2016, President Obama had used over 450 more drone strikes than President Bush.

Obama implements his anti-American troops foreign policy because he is highly protective of each life in the American military. He pulled troops out of places we could not control, refused to put troops into Syria when he could have, and favors unmanned drones to inflict violence rather than American soldiers.

As Obama has shown us, there is a way of saving our troops and inflicting damage on foreign nations while still being seen as force for good on the world stage.