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Critics Hope for More Deliberate Obama on World Crises

  • Aru Pande

From too cautious to too slow, there has been no shortage of criticism for President Barack Obama's foreign policy decision-making, as world crises from Iraq to Ukraine seemingly ratchet out of control. As the president prepares to lay out his strategy for dealing with the threat posed by the Islamic State militant group, some hope Obama will refocus and take more deliberate action on the world stage.

A sense of urgency seemed to grip the administration after Islamic State militants released videos showing the beheadings of two American journalists.

The Islamic State group already had overrun portions of Iraq, leaving Republican lawmakers and other critics to question the president's foreign policy approach on world crises.

"We cannot engage in photo-op foreign policy, or press release foreign policy of dropping a bomb here or shooting a missile there and not having a strategy that is dictated by clear and direct military objectives in the furtherance of U.S. national security interests," said Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Even members of his own party have accused Obama of being too cautious and displaying a lack of urgency in Iraq.

Long-term considerations

Ken Sofer with the Center for American Progress countered that while the president's approach may not be "sexy" to critics who are advocating for immediate military action, his decision-making is strategic and takes into account the long term.

"One of President Obama's biggest strengths is that he is very deliberative. He does not overreact in situations and he largely looks at these different foreign policy crises and assesses what are the threats to U.S. interests and U.S. opportunities and U.S. citizens," said Sofer.

Some say President Obama's cautious foreign policy approach, including his reluctance to engage militarily, has contributed to a sense of American disengagement with the world.

This perception comes at a time when other nations are looking to the United States for leadership in dealing with these crises, not just in Iraq, but in Ukraine, where Russian tanks have rolled across the border.

"I think the president was trying for a couple of years to see if there were substitutes and I hope that he has now realized that even as the United States needs to work with coalitions and partners, there is nobody else in this international system of the 21st century so far that can play a leadership role," said the Brookings Institution’s Michael O'Hanlon.

O'Hanlon said there is still time for Obama to shift his foreign policy focus toward more decisive action and rely less on other nations to take a greater leadership role.

Despite this, the White House says the president is seeking out willing partners to fight what the secretary of state has said poses an "imminent threat" to the United States.

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