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Obama’s Foreign Policy on the Ropes?

With Monday’s debate on foreign policy just around the corner, Foreign Policy’s Rosa Brooks takes a look at Obama’s record and doesn’t much like what she sees. Particularly in the Middle East, many of Obama’s most ballyhooed policies have failed to get off the ground at all:

Despite some successes large and small, Obama’s foreign policy has disappointed many who initially supported him. The Middle East initiatives heralded in his 2009 Cairo speech fizzled or never got started at all, and the Middle East today is more volatile than ever. The administration’s response to the escalating violence in Syria has consisted mostly of anxious thumb-twiddling. The Israelis and the Palestinians are both furious at us. In Afghanistan, Obama lost faith in his own strategy: he never fought to fully resource it, and now we’re searching for a way to leave without condemning the Afghans to endless civil war. In Pakistan, years of throwing money in the military’s direction have bought little cooperation and less love.

The Russians want to reset the reset, neither the Chinese nor anyone else can figure out what, if anything, the “pivot to Asia” really means, and Latin America and Africa continue to be mostly ignored, along with global issues such as climate change. Meanwhile, the administration’s expanding drone campaign suggests a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings—we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.

Brooks goes on to suggest areas where Obama needs to shake things up if he wins a second term. Beyond the policy minutiae, she points out the lack of a clear vision in Obama’s foreign policy:

What does President Obama see as the one or two gravest threats to the United States? What are our one or two biggest opportunities? Is terrorism an existential threat to the United States, or a marginal threat, overshadowed by the long-term dangers posed by climate change, pandemics, and a highly manipulable global financial system? Should we focus on increasing ties in Asia, or focus on our neighbors in Central and South America? Is the United States trying to maintain global preeminence, even if it comes at the expense of other states — or are we trying to foster a global order in which the United States is but one of many strong countries, all constrained by a robust international network of laws and institutions?

In some ways, this poor showing is to be expected. No president has had an entirely successful record in the Middle East. Obama has had his share of foreign policy successes, although perhaps not where his supporters would have expected. But the ongoing mess in Syria, last year’s debacle in Libya, and the recent attacks on the embassy in Benghazi do suggest that Obama has vulnerabilities here. We’ll see come Monday whether Romney exploits them.

Read the whole thing.

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