Rating Obama’s foreign policy

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh | SIPA Class of 2018


With November 8 fast approaching, Americans have to start saying goodbye to Obama and get ready to welcome a new president into the White House. Looking back, Obama certainly inherited a difficult political environment, but after eight years in office, Americans are curious: was Obama successful in his foreign policy. The Morningside Post has set out to answer this question.


The Iran Deal and reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba were two huge victories for the Obama administration. The latter comes with no risk and only reward, while the former could be groundbreaking in lowering tensions and ending proxy wars in the Middle East. Obama’s support for Tunisia has also been a major accomplishment, as the country has emerged as the lone transitioning democracy from the Arab Spring states.

Additionally, we mustn’t forget that under Obama’s leadership, Navy SEAL Team 6 infiltrated Osama Bin Laden’s hideout and eliminated the main planner and supporter of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This was a huge victory for American foreign policy.


On the other hand, the Obama administration’s handling of situations in three other Arab Spring states, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, has been disappointing, to say the least. The NATO-led military intervention in Libya was not followed by a post-intervention strategy and has contributed to the chaos and power vacuum that we see in Libya today. In Yemen, the US has turned a blind eye to the Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes against civilians. Finally, in Syria, US inaction regarding the conflict has left Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah all feeling empowered to continue fighting and has come at the expense of Syrian civilians.

In relation, the Obama administration’s non-confrontational policy toward Russia has resulted in a country which imagines itself in a position of glory to match its status in the heyday of the Cold War. Such a dream is unrealistic, but Obama’s failure to push back against Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria has led to a Putin-led administration whose power is on the rise. Paradoxically, Obama’s attempts to extend NATO’s influence within the Russian sphere-of-influence partially led to this increased hostility.


Obama’s efforts to bring to a close US troop deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan have been delayed by worrying security deterioration in both countries. It is still too early to judge Obama in this regard.

Obama’s policy toward Israel and Palestine was effective in the sense that he refused to continue to give Israel full impunity for its war crimes and occupation of Palestinian land. However, he also failed to deliver positive progress toward the ever-elusive two-state peace agreement.


Obama wasn’t elected to office for his foreign policy acumen. Despite some major successes, under Obama’s leadership, America is in a less powerful position in a more unstable world. The American president’s influence in world politics is often overestimated, but Obama certainly missed out on ideal opportunities to help make the world a more peaceful place.



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