Obama Still Cleaning Up Bush’s Mess
A weakened America is still strong, its president the most powerful leader in the world. So it matters what he does. As Barack Obama is sworn in for his second term, he is still struggling to forge a coherent foreign policy, from Afghanistan to Mali to the Middle East.
It’s not all his fault. He has been kept busy cleaning up the economic and geopolitical mess left behind by George W. Bush. He had to protect American self-interest while paying lip service to its ideals. He had to work within the confines of what Congress would let him do. He was balancing his preferred policy goals abroad with his electoral needs at home.
Now that he has overcome his Republican enemies — and they did behave as enemies, not political opponents in the mould of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition that sets aside partisanship for the common good — the president will have a little more manoeuvring room.
War fatigue and an empty treasury forced him to play a secondary role in Libya when Britain and France led NATO to topple Moammar Gadhafi. But that job was only half done, leaving Libya to competing militias. One killed the American ambassador in Benghazi last year. Another, made up of ethnic Tuaregs from Mali who provided security for Gadhafi, has since made its way back home, taking all its arms. Motivated by decades-old Tuareg rebellion against the Malian government, it joined the Islamists who have been threatening to overrun the country. This has prompted France to intervene.