President Obama’s international outlook remains heavily oriented toward decreasing the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. In his State of the Union address, the president promised to declare an end to the 12-year war in Afghanistan.
Joshua Landis, the author of Syria Comment and the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says President Obama’s address “claimed big successes” in a September Syria chemical weapons deal and a November interim agreement with Iran halting uranium enrichment programs in exchange for lifted sanctions.
“Syrian chemical weapons have been exported, but they’ve stalled recently because the talks in Geneva did not go well,” Landis says. “[Secretary of State John] Kerry came out, and he demanded regime change, and that [Syrian President Bahsar] Assad’s got to go. Clearly Assad did not like that, and he’s putting the brakes on the chemical weapons, showing that he can punish them.”
“If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today,” Obama said.
Contradictions in President Obama’s speech also drew attention.
“He mentioned putting limits on the use of drones, yet he’s a president that has used drones dramatically around the world to fight this war on terror,” Grillot says. “He still hasn’t closed down Guantanamo Bay, something that everybody expected him to do, and something he ran on in 2008.”
Grillot says a vague stance on NSA surveillance programs also cloud the president’s successes in the foreign policy arena. Obama also called on Congress to lift restrictions on transferring detainees held at Guantanamo, and did not say how many troops might remain in Afghanistan after this year.
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