Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy and Rising Powers

Prof. Dr. Tarık OĞUZLU
18 January 2017
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When Obama came to presidency in January 2009, he wanted to achieve two specific goals. One was to help improve the tarnished image of the United States during the reign of George W. Bush, whereas the other to put his country on a solid ground in the wake of the financial crises in 2008. It was very clear from the first day of his presidency that he would become a domestic politics president mainly focusing on internal issues, rather than spending the United States’ dwindling capabilities in expensive foreign policy adventures abroad. The thinking was that should the United States mend its deteriorating relations with great powers, such as China and Russia, adopt a multilateral approach in relations with the European allies, particularly within NATO, get away from the never ending nation-building exercises in the Middle East, improve relations with Muslim countries by scaling down the democracy promotion agenda, outsource the responsibility of providing security to other regional allies in different quarters of the world, and finally opening to erstwhile enemies, such as Iran and Cuba, in such a way to help them integrate into existing liberal world order, then the United States would be in a much better position to deal with myriad economic social and political problems at home.


‘Strategic patience’ and ‘leading from behind’ were two fashionable concepts of Obama’s foreign policy paradigm. While the first suggests that the United States would do well to be patient now to see the rewarding consequences of its restraint policies materialize later, the second underlines the importance of letting other global and regional actors take initiatives in the solution of crises. Opening to erstwhile enemies and helping other global powers become integrated into the existing international system would eventually decrease the burden on the United States to act as the sole global security provider.    


Such a foreign policy outlook seems to have led many pundits to conclude that the United States under Obama has adopted the so-called restraint/retrenchment policy. Some argued that Obama became the first American president of the emerging post-American world. Obama seems to have acquiesced to the view that the United States would do well to recognize its limits in shaping global politics and become a smart power by pooling its hard and soft power capabilities in a more efficient and optimal way. To Obama, the era of unipolar US hegemony appears to have come to an end with the spectacular rise of non-western powers, notably China, and following the immense negative consequences of the economic crisis in the final years of the Bush presidency on US economy.


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