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Foreign Policy Challenges Will Continue in 2014


2013 was a challenging year for President Barack Obama in foreign policy.

Obama had his hands full in 2013 -- from controversy over his response to Syrian chemical weapons attacks, to a groundbreaking telephone call with Iran's new president and negotiations for a nuclear deal.

He had a summit with China's leader, visited Africa, and paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela.

But he was weighed down by revelations of U.S. electronic eavesdropping, which caused tensions with key allies.

Obama attended the G20 summit in Russia, but canceled a formal meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

In his U.N. speech in September, he recognized what he called hostility toward America's global engagement, but said disengagement would be a mistake.

"I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. But I also believe the world is better for it," said Obama.

Daniel Serwer, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says in Syria Obama won a deal to remove chemical weapons without military action -- but more is at stake.

"There is a growing domination of the opposition by extremists who would pose a very serious problem for us if the Bashar al-Assad regime is ever to fall, and you've got the neighbors increasingly shaky, the state structure -- Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon all at risk," said Serwer.

Whether Obama can remain focused on foreign policy is questionable, says Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Between the NSA scandal, health care, a government shutdown, many world leaders are wondering if President Obama can domestically overcome challenges even to focus on the challenges in the international arena," she said.

In 2014, the pace of the U.S. and NATO drawdown from Afghanistan will accelerate.

Conley says Americans and the world will be looking to Obama to clarify the accomplishments and costs of the long and bloody conflict.

"That delicate balance of what we were striving for and the cost that we bore has to be a very delicate conversation domestically and, I think as well, internationally," said Conley.

A recent Pew Research poll showed declining support for global engagement among Americans, a challenge to Obama's belief in a U.S. role.

"Somehow he is blamed for what is seen as the global decline of American influence," said Serwer. "I have got to tell you that global decline is not so apparent when you ask the people abroad. There are lots and lots of countries where American influence is still very high."

2014 will bring more challenges as Iran nuclear negotiations continue, a U.N.-sponsored Syrian peace conference is set for January and Washington deals with its uncertain relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan, China and Russia.

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