Obama’s Foreign Policy Successes

Obama’s Foreign Policy Successes


Obama’s policy: Soon after taking office, President Obama ordered then-CIA director Leon Panetta to “redouble” efforts to track down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Just six months after 9/11, President Bush said of bin Laden, “I really just don’t spend much time on” bin Laden. In 2005, Bush shut down the CIA’s unit dedicated to tracking him because resources were needed to fight the war in Iraq. Nearly three years later, Obama ordered a Navy SEAL raid into bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and obtaining troves of valuable intelligence on the terror network. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called President Obama’s decision to get bin Laden “one of the most courageous calls I’ve ever seen a president make.”

GOP’s response: The GOP refused to credit the Obama administration with planning and executing the raid and baselessly claimed the Bush administration’s torture program led to the killing of Bin Laden.

Outcome: Bin Laden’s death brought an end to a nearly decade long manhunt. No civilians or U.S. military personnel were killed. Indeed, as CAP’s Brian Katulis and Peter Juul note, “the Al Qaeda network over the past three years suffered its greatest losses since the United States and its allies evicted the terrorist organization from Afghanistan in 2001.”


Obama’s policy: The Obama administration, led by Susan Rice at the United Nations, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at NATO, pulled together an international coalition to approve and successfully execute a no-fly zone over Libya to protect anti-Qaddafi rebels.

GOP’s response: Republicans parroted Qaddafi’s propaganda claiming that Al Qaeda was behind the rebel uprising. With Qaddafi’s death, Republicans again refused to credit Obama, mocked the White House for “leading from behind” and criticized the administration’s strategy for failing to use more U.S. air-power or putting American “boots on the ground.”

Outcome: In just seven months and spending only $1 billion, coalition forces helped the rebels successfully overthrow the Qaddafi regime on october 20, 2011.


Obama’s policy: Early in his presidency, Obama promised that U.S. troops would end combat missions by late summer 2010. Combat missions formally ended on August 31, 2010. On October 21, 2011, following Iraqi parliament’s unwillingness to support an extension of immunity for U.S. military personnel, Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.

GOP’s response: Despite the fact President Bush signed an agreement to withdraw all U.S. troop from Iraq by 2012, Republicans called the decision an “astonishing failure” and claimed Obama “lost the war in Iraq.” Despite once hailing the agreement signed by the Bush administration outlining the process of U.S. troop withdrawal, Fred Kagan charged that “this retreat will have great costs for the United States.

Outcome: The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq brings an end to a costly and war, in both lives and treasure. The troop withdrawal will lower total U.S. government costs for operations in Iraq to $11 billion in 2012. A massive reduction from the $65.1 billion budgeted for Iraq in 2010.


Obama’s policy: The Obama administration has worked to tighten and enforce sanctions against Iran and on June 9, 2010, the U.N. Security Council, at the Obama administration’s encouragement, passed a new round of multilateral sanctions. The following month, Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA) which, among other restrictions, banned Iranian-origin imports for items such as rugs, pistachios and caviar.

GOP’s response: The right wing continues to criticize Obama for failing to bring “crippling” — Iraq-style — sanctions against Iran or for not explicitly threatening military action. For example, while ignoring signs of progress in Obama’s pressure and containment strategy against Tehran, Mitt Romney inaccurately claimed that “our president has communicated in various subtle ways that there is not a military option that we would consider.”

Outcome: The IAEA reported recently that Iran is increasingly moving toward a weaponized program. But outside pressure has stalled and/or delayed progress. The Iranians have had difficulty in acquiring replacement parts for machines used to enrich uranium and damage from the Stuxnet computer virus — understood to have been developed as part of U.S. government program — led to a slowdown in program. Obama’s push on Iran at the United Nations has isolated the Islamic Republic internationally and the administration’s diplomats persuaded Russia and China to abstain from vetoing U.N. sanctions.


Obama’s policy: Fulfilling his campaign promise to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Obama, along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, formally certified the repeal of the law on July 22, 2011.

GOP’s response: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who orchestrated legislative maneuvers to delay the repeal, said that the “homosexual lobby” is pushing for “a military takeover by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community.” Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) said, “I would reinstate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.” None of the GOP presidential contenders immediately condemned the audience’s booing of a gay soldier during an Orlando GOP debate.

Outcome: As of September 20, 2011, gay and lesbians can serve openly in the U.S. military.


Obama’s policy: Obama signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia as part of his push to reduce the emphasis on nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia’s deterrence strategies. In the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the administration sought to limit the role of the U.S.’s nuclear deterrent by declaring the U.S. will not use or threaten the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

GOP’s response: Republicans, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), were outspoken about their opposition to New START, a treaty that even Henry Kissinger described as “modest.” House Republicans used procedural challenges to slow the ratification of New START and Mitt Romney inaccurately attacked the treaty for “imped[ing] missile defense, [sic] our protection from nuclear-proliferation rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.”

Outcome: Outside right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation opposing the treaty, the Senate consented to its ratification and Obama signed New START, completing the ratification process, on February 2, 2011. The treaty requires that both Russia and the U.S. reduce their nuclear warhead arsenals to 1,550 each, a 30 percent reduction from the 2002 Treaty of Moscow and a 74 percent reduction from the 1991 START treaty.


Obama’s policy: The Obama administration consistently called for Egyptian authorities to respect the rights of protesters during demonstrations against the Mubarak regime and helped negotiate a non-violent end to his decades-long rule. The administration also worked with Egyptian counterparts to set out the steps for an orderly transition of power and praised the military for showing restraint in responding to protests.

GOP’s response: Republicans said Obama thew “Mubarak under the bus” and warned that the pro-democracy movement was a “virus spreading throughout the Middle East.” Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) told reporters “I know President Mubarak personally, he’s been a friend of America. I feel sad that he’s going through this.”

Outcome: Mubarak resigned on February 11 and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took control of the government. The Council indicated that it intended to suspend emergency laws that have been in effect for three decades and facilitate a transition to democracy. The Council maintains good relationships with the Obama administration and has declared that Egypt “is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties.” Presidential elections are scheduled for March or April 2012 and a series of parliamentary elections will be held from November 2011 to January 2012.


Obama’s policy: President Obama ordered a drone attack that killedal Qaeda propagandist Anwar Al Awlaki, a U.S.-Yemeni dual citizen.

GOP’s response: Republicans inaccurately claimed that “enhanced interrogations” and intelligence gleaned from detainees at Guantanamo Bay were used in the operation and, downplaying the significance of Awlaki’s death, endorsed Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh as “preferable to Al-Qaeda.”

Outcome: Al Awlaki’s death brought a damaging blow to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and removed one of Al Qaeda’s most powerful voices in spreading propaganda and recruiting foreign fighters. While there are legitimate questions surrounding the use of force in this case, the killing of al Awlaki and bin Laden undoubtedly weakens Al Qaeda’s ability to operate in the Middle East and plan and execute attacks.


Obama’s Policy: Strengthen America’s military and intelligence relationship with Israel. In an interview in August, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” According to one Israeli official, that coordination is now “even better than under President Bush.”

The GOP’s Response: Republicans and the right wing routinely say that Obama is anti-Israel and has thrown Israel “under the bus.”

Outcome: While there has been tension between the U.S. and Israel, over the settlement issue, this should not obscure the otherwise overwhelming support that President Obama has given Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported that, under Obama, “U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly,” an effort that stems from policy directives the White House gave the Pentagon early in Obama’s presidency to “deepen and expand the quantity and intensity of cooperation to the fullest extent.” Importantly, Obama has increased the level of strategic dialogue and the depth of intelligence coordination between the U.S. and Israel, particularly regarding Iran, a key Israeli security concern. President Obama’s efforts to increase US-Israel cooperation have resulted in the significant slowing of Iran’s nuclear progress.