News / USA

Outreach, Afghanistan Dominate First Year of Obama Foreign Policy

President Obama at Forbidden City in Beijing
President Obama at Forbidden City in Beijing


President Obama promised a new era in U.S. international engagement and dispatched special envoys to tackle key foreign policy problems during the first year of his administration. But the year may best be remembered for marathon White House consultations that led to an early December decision to boost the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.

From the outset, Mr. Obama  and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton promised a more conciliatory foreign policy.  

Speaking to reporters after she was nominated as Washington's top diplomat, Clinton explained how the administration's foreign policy would differ from that of outgoing President George W. Bush.

"We know our security, our values, and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone. Nor, indeed, by Americans alone. We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries," she said. 

Mr. Obama and Secretary Clinton named seasoned foreign policy envoys to tackle tough issues. Richard Holbrooke became the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell became the special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The administration became a full participant for the first time in big-power contacts with Iran on its nuclear program and sent envoy Stephen Bosworth to North Korea in December to talk about re-starting talks on dismantling the country's nuclear program.   But there was no visible progress with either country. 

Mitchell made multiple trips to the Middle East to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

But that bid was also unsuccessful. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a total freeze on Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, a Palestinian demand.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell traveled to Burma.  After the visit, Burma's military rulers made conciliatory gestures to detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi but she is still under house arrest.

The unreciprocated outreach drew criticism from conservatives, who accused the new President of being naïve.

Former Reagan administration official Richard Perle was especially critical of outreach to Iran at a time when Tehran was cracking down on protesters and opposition leaders.

"When you go repeatedly to Iran, which is proceeding at a pace to develop its nuclear weapons, which continues to support terrorism in a number of places and destabilizes the Middle East region, when you go repeatedly to Iran - by the way as it brutalizes its own citizens - you eventually begin to send a message," he said.

Mr. Obama stressed, during the presidential campaign, that he had opposed the Iraq war.

But as president, he alienated some core supporters with his decision, in December, to boost U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan.

That decision followed a long policy review criticized by former Vice President Dick Cheney as "dithering."

The President answered critics in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions and to explore all the different options. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," he said.

Mr. Obama's handling of the overthrow of elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya got negative or incomplete grades from the experts. 

At year's end, Mr. Zelaya was still not restored to power despite initial U.S. demands.

Finally, the President's gesture on climate change at the Copenhagen conference in December did not produce the deal environmentalists were hoping for.

But many analysts credit Mr. Obama with taking on tough issues.

"I think this President deserves extra credit for the degree of difficulty of what he's taken on. The big question for me is whether his governing tenacity will match the rhetorical audacity of his word,"  said Will Marshall, who is with Washington's Progressive Policy Institute.

Secretary Clinton traveled the globe to mend frayed relationships, although statements she made in Pakistan, that criticized the country's commitment to battling militants, alienated many there.

She advocated a new strategy of "smart power" in  which developmental aid is to become a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy, on a par with military leverage and diplomacy.

You May Like

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Tattoos, hookah bars and doughnuts? Google Maps lays out what people really have on their minds during the holiday

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs