Obama Has a ‘Tough Road Ahead’ in Foreign Policy This Year

“It’s interesting case study in the burdens of presidential leadership and the differences between intentions and the hand the real world deals you.”

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 8, 2016 11:30 am,

Over this weekend the U.S. and its allies conducted 17 air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. These strikes come shortly after the Afghan Air Force claims to have hit ISIS-related targets in eastern Afghanistan.

Now some critics of the Obama administration say the president isn’t doing enough when it comes to containing the ISIS threat, which is believed to be conducting regular operations in at least 12 countries.

It’s being reported that the some of the President’s national security aides are pressing Obama to open up a new front in Libya, an area they say is becoming a hotbed for ISIS activity, raising the question on what’s the next step for the President when it comes to tackling ISIS.

William Inboden, a public affairs professor University of Texas at Austin, served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House. He says one of the oft-heard criticisms he’s heard of President Obama’s foreign policy is that he hasn’t had much strategy.

“We’re hearing that from some of his former officials like (former) Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell – these have all left the Obama administration in recent years,” Inboden says.

But Inboden says he does see that Obama has been trying to manage the ISIS problem.

“He clearly knows that ISIS is a threat,” Inboden says. “He does not want them to expand anymore. That’s why we’ve been seeing these campaign of airstrikes and limited ground forces in Iraq and Syria. But he’s between wanting to reduce the ISIS threat and yet also not escalate America’s involvement in more wars across the broader Middle East.”

Those are difficult impulses to reconcile, Inboden says.

“There’s a real irony here,” he says. “President Obama came into office in 2009 wanting to end America’s wars and wanting to turn down the global war on terror … and now it looks like he might possibly be having America involved in three wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and then possibly in Libya with a new global terrorist threat. So it’s interesting case study in the burdens of presidential leadership and the differences between intentions and the hand the real world deals you.”

There are other factors at play in presidential foreign policy decisions as well, Inboden says. It’s Obama’s last year in office and he might want to hand over to his successor a better hand than he was dealt.

“In this case, President Obama has a tough road ahead this year,” Inboden says. “It looks now like he might be handing over to his successor three hot wars and a metastasized – and then growing – threat from the Islamic State. Not to mention an eroded position for the United States vis-á-vis China and Russia and North Korea. So it’s going to be a difficult world the next president inherits.”