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Critics Question Obama Doctrine

  • Luis Ramirez

President Barack Obama's foreign policy has come under criticism, not just from Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits, but also from centrists who accuse the president of taking an approach they describe as unclear, weak, and isolationist. Others say the president's strategy is in line with American public opinion, which has been shaped by a more than a decade of war.

With Russian-backed forces overrunning parts of Ukraine despite U.S. sanctions, Syria and Egypt in turmoil, China asserting territorial claims, and the Israeli Palestinian peace process stuck, President Obama's policies overseas are under attack.

On a recent Asian visit, Obama was asked to define his doctrine.

“Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force," said President Obama. "And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?"

Everybody in America is not eager to use military force. Polls show most Americans don't support sending U.S. troops into foreign conflicts.

But many still want the U.S. to take the lead in resolving crises and promoting democracy globally.

“I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning," said Obama.

In his landmark Cairo speech in 2009, President Obama pledged his support for democratic change in the Middle East.

“No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people,"said Obama.

Then, the Arab Spring erupted. Egypt - and especially Syria - plunged into chaos.

On Syria, the administration's image suffered for not following through with threats to attack after the Assad government used chemical weapons and there's little chance it will step in now.

Analyst Larry Korb:

"When President Obama looks at Syria he says, 'OK what will be the cost? Will the Syrian people, all of them, welcome us?' We thought that the Iraqi people would. Certain did, but most of them didn't," said Korb.

Despite the odds, the administration launched yet another attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace. But it failed to produce results. Analyst Elliott Abrams.

“I think there is a sense we ought to try and I think the energy that particularly Secretary of State Kerry has put into this is widely admired. I have to say, though, I think it was a mistake. It's not good for the United States to fail, ever, at anything because it suggests people are defying us or they don't care about our opinion," said Abrams.

But perhaps the biggest risk - or potential for a breakthrough - is in Obama's efforts for a historic deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The president made a campaign promise to pull back from world conflicts and focus on nation building at home. It's now up to history to judge whether the strategy was the right one.