Obama's First Term: Views From Around the World
People in the Middle East, Europe and Africa rate Obama's foreign-policy record
The United States was not a particularly popular country when President Obama took office. The U.S. invasion of Iraq under false pretenses--a move that many feel destabilized the Middle Eastern nation, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians--severely bruised America’s image abroad.
Obama was charged with repairing that reputation. He has been praised for pulling troops out of Iraq and coming up with an aggressive timetable to do the same in Afghanistan. And then, of course, he presided over the raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
Unlike his predecessor, Obama gets rock-star treatment in most parts of the world. But not everyone praises Obama’s foreign-policy accomplishments. Yes, he’s done some good work ending wars, but critics contend that he has not been as aggressive in other areas, like creating more economic opportunities for African countries, and forcing Israel to more fully recognize the rights of Palestinians.
Loop 21 asked Lawson Akhigbe, a London-based attorney; Adeyela Bennett, a school administrator in Dubai; and Dr. Ziblim Iddi, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and senior lecturer in political science at the University of Ghana, to give us their thoughts about Obama’s foreign policy record.
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If I were American, I would have voted for Obama in 2008. His election, for non-white populations living in developed nations, provided confidence, courage and hope that either they or their children could be leaders in their various countries. And if I had the vote now, I would vote for him. Obama’s tasks are not completed yet.
The introduction of nuance in consideration and implementation of U.S. foreign policy was a clear contrast to the rather dumb, black-and-white George W. Bush policy. The war on terror was silly. Obama sought to redefine the war against those who attacked the U.S., and as a result of refocusing the war, Osama bin Laden is dead and his organization is no longer focused on a figurehead to provide inspiration.
The Arab spring will be remembered as an Obama-enabled movement. Obama, by not opposing it, enabled it.
The Obama Doctrine, as explained in Cairo, allowed the world to see that U.S. national security was not in contrast to others. If the U.S. is safe, we are all safe. The U.S. could show respect to others while not negating its national interests. The morbid hatred of America for all it stands for is receding. There are wars still being fought, but America under Obama is dousing these wars.
It’s more difficult to explain nuance to a U.S. population schooled in sound bites. Explaining that not all Muslims are the same, and that Islam is as diverse as Christianity, with Sunnis and Shiites, as with Protestants and Catholics is difficult. These variations are not easy to fit onto a bumper sticker.
Given his skills, Obama should have found a way to make nuance the new normal. Allowing the Republicans to label his reset tour when he first took office by visiting countries in the Middle East to make common ground as an apology tour for American values was a mistake.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
I voted for President Obama in 2008. That was the time first I ever voted. I'm originally from the Bahamas and became a U.S. citizen right before the election. My husband and I did early voting about a week ago, and we definitely voted for President Obama!
We voted for President Obama in 2008 because the economy was in shambles, we were at war with the wrong country, Obama was promising hope and change, and he provided the opportunity for us to make a historic vote for the first black United States president. This time, we again voted for President Obama because he's better than the other guy. He needs more time to fix the economic problems caused by the Bush administration. We also like him because he's interested in finding clean energy sources, which is good for the environment and good for the economy. President Obama is pulling us out of wars, instead of putting us in them.
President Obama is highly respected in Dubai because of his respect for all people, including Arabs and Muslims. When people learn that I'm from the United States, the response I receive 100 percent of the time is: "Obama!!!" Americans are loved and respected in Dubai. People openly say that they love President Obama, but feel the opposite about President Bush and his party.
Both women and men speak about the shamefulness of 911 and how al-Qaeda is giving all Muslims a bad name. They think Osama bin Laden's death was just. As an American, I am proud that President Obama has not had American troops storm into every dispute in the Middle East and he has a timeline for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. However, Israel is always a controversial issue here in the Middle East. My Arab friends don't understand why America always has to side with Israel, although they say Obama seems to handle the Palestine-Israel issue more intelligently than previous American presidents.
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Dr. Ziblim Iddi
It would have been much easier for me to vote for President Obama in 2008 than in 2012, if I had the vote. In 2012, it really is a hard choice. I can appreciate the economic challenges he’s faced, but even on liberal issues that I expected him to take positions on, he has wavered.
I would say that in areas of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and making sure there was a timetable for the U.S. to withdraw, Obama’s foreign policy has been excellent. He also pursued al-Qaeda and wasn’t distracted. On that score he did very well. They were able to kill Osama bin Laden and capture or kill lots of high-profile members of al-Qaeda. In terms of the national security interest of the U.S., I would say he has done very well.
Regarding his overall record in the Middle East, I think he started out well by laying out what the problem is. But he has not been successful in terms of the fundamental rights of Palestinians. He looks like he’s confused. You don’t see him pushing the Israelis in seeing that the Palestinians are granted rights they should have. In the Middle East, I would say that since he came to office there have been no serious talks to bring the two parties together in a way that would result in shuttle diplomacy.
His policy on Africa has been a disappointment. I don’t see the U.S. pushing certain countries to be more democratic. I would have thought he would be pushing for more openness in countries like Uganda.
Obama inherited the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) [a Clinton administration initiative that offers incentives to African countries to open up their economies and build free markets]. AGOA is one area that was supposed to create opportunities for Africa. One would have expected that he would lay that out as a priority. But there has not been a dramatic increase in countries that would benefit from AGOA.
In addition, I have seen conflicts in Africa where the United States has not taken center stage. Ivory Coast comes to mind. [In November 2010, incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo was defeated and refused to leave office, leading to months of bloodshed.] One would have expected the Obama administration to be at the forefront of the crisis in that country. But France was the country that played that role. The same thing happened with Libya. The Europeans were center stage.
On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, I would give Obama a 7 on his foreign policy record.
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