(CNN) – On the international stage, President Barack Obama began his presidency on a high note, but things got complicated.
Obama began so well. In Cairo and beyond. He was charming the world. Promising a remake of relations with Muslims and the mid-east.
His presidency, born of hope and the audacity of it, had a ready overseas audience. He was even, rather puzzlingly, awarded the Nobel peace prize.
He began pulling U.S. troops out of an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Numbers falling fast, but then he was blindsided. The Arab spring set the region alight.
“The events of the past 6 months show us that strategies of repression strategies of aversion will not work anymore.”
He wanted change for ordinary people. However, his reaction alienated long time regional allies. Parts of the region were running out of control. U.S. ambassador Chris Stephens killed in post Arab spring Libya.
In Syria popular Arab spring protest escalated to a dirty war. A patchwork battlefield of confusing competing interests. Where ISIS took root. With plans to grow a caliphate. Joining forces with ISIS over the border in Iraq taking advantage of the U.S. draw down.
Into all this, the now infamous red line moment, “If we started seeing a bunch of chemical or biological weapons moving around. That would be a red line for us.”
It was now that hope ran out of road. When a chemical attack came, Obama didn’t follow through. Across the world the penny dropped. U.S. engagement was no longer a given, but he was trying to secure peace in Syria and in Israel.
Meanwhile unrest in Ukraine. Opened the door to an emboldened Putin, who annexed Crimea, stoked tensions. Obama helped corral the E.U. and NATO to impose sanctions, bolster Europe’s security. He still had influence. Nevertheless, Putin saw weakness. Stole the initiative in Syria, sending troops. For now owning the outcome of that conflict.
If a moment exists where the overseas popular pull of the president came adrift. It may be here in London. With the U.S.’s special ally, standing side by side with then Prime Minister David Cameron, April last year, advising Brits not to leave the European Union. A few weeks later they ignored his words.
Yet there were Obama triumphs. Opening new relations with Cuba, helping create a lasting peace in Colombia, and cop21. A climate change agreement that required immense diplomatic heavy lifting. Then of course running America’s number one enemy to ground. Osama Bin Laden. A triumph for any president.
Yet Obama’s greatest achievement may be what he didn’t do, throw the U.S. in to a new global confrontation.