Obama seems to lack an appreciation of America's unique role in the world, says FPI Executive Director Jamie Fly

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As Barack Obama seeks reelection, he will likely tout the country's counterterrorism successes under his watch and, in a sop to his base, his ending of the war in Iraq and his efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Although voters in 2012 will be focused primarily on the state of the economy, they should consider who is best suited to defend the country and advance America's interests as commander chief when choosing whether to reelect Obama or bring in a new president.

The Obama administration does have achievements to point to in the war against al Qaeda and affiliated groups -- the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs chief among them. But the war on terror must remain a focus for the next president, whoever it is. Obama, by deemphasizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of deniable covert efforts, has put the country at risk of being drawn back into both theaters because of his unwillingness to finish the job begun by his predecessor.

So too is the situation with rogue regimes that threaten America and its allies. The West's confrontation with Iran is nearing a critical juncture as Iran approaches a nuclear weapons capability. Syria, Iran's closest ally, is wracked by what many observers now describe as a civil war. The broader Middle East is in turmoil in the wake of last year's momentous developments. North Korea, under the new leadership of Kim Jong Un, still challenges the stability of East Asia.

Meanwhile, rising and resurgent powers such as China and Russia continue to undermine American interests. Obama has rightfully begun to devote more American diplomatic and military attention to Asia to deal with China's rise, but has pursued a wrongheaded "reset" policy with Russia that does not reflect the true nature of the Russian government, now facing its own popular uprising. On each of these issues, the Obama administration has refused to take assertive action, instead managing on the margins.

In his first three years in office, Obama has made several correct tactical decisions, but he seems to lack an appreciation of America's unique role in the world and a coherent vision for the use of U.S. power and influence. What the country needs from its next president is a leader who can shape world events rather than be shaped by them. There is little to indicate that this is Barack Obama's interest or aptitude.

- Originally written for a Foreign Policy magazine symposium

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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