After pursuing a broad projection of American power in his first
four years -- and facing some obstacles -- President Barack Obama is
expected to push smaller diplomatic initiatives in the next four.
Not quite nine months into his presidency, Barack Obama woke to
the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- not for
anything yet accomplished, but for the promise that he would end the
Iraq war, win the "war of necessity" in Afghanistan, move toward the
elimination of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change and engage
Yet beyond Iraq, his first-term accomplishments from that list
are sparse. In a fractured world, Mr. Obama struggled to define a
grand strategy for the United States' role, apart from preserving
its pre-eminence while relying increasingly on a changing cast of
As Mr. Obama begins his second term -- he was sworn in quietly on
Sunday, the constitutionally mandated date, in advance of the public
ceremony on Monday -- aides and confidants say he is acutely aware
that his ambitious agenda to restore the country's influence and
image in the world stalled almost as soon as the prize was awarded.
But the president has indicated that he plans to return to his
original agenda, though he has hinted it may be in a different, less
overtly ambitious way.
Bitter experience -- from getting the most modest arms control
agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to
engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of
leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to
be a costly waste of U.S. lives and resources -- is driving him to a
strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors as
president: Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world
events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military
interventions and big aid packages.
"The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big
element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at
home, of conserving American power," said one of Mr. Obama's senior
national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by
name. "But there's also the reality that some of the initiatives
that seemed so hopeful four years ago -- whether it's driving down
the number of nuclear weapons or helping Afghanistan remake itself -
- look so much harder now."
Whether this approach can work is very much an open question. His
early forays into covert action and lightning-quick strikes -- like
the fast war in Libya or the cyberwar against Iran -- have set back
adversaries, but the satisfactions of striking with a "light
footprint" have usually been temporary at best.
His promises of transformative change are now viewed around the
world with more suspicion. There was the student in Cairo who
cornered a reporter a year ago and demanded to know why the prison
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was still open, and the European foreign
minister who, at a diplomatic dinner in Washington, asked whether
"the pivot to Asia is another phrase for ignoring the rest of the
Mr. Obama's questions during Situation Room sessions, some of his
current and former aides say, seem to reflect a concern that his
first term was spent putting out fires, rather than building lasting
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman
solidified the United States' post-World War II role by helping
create the United Nations, the international financial institutions
and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; President John F. Kennedy
emerged from the Cuban Missile Crisis with treaties limiting the
spread of nuclear weapons; President George H.W. Bush lured new
allies from the ruins of the Soviet Union.
By comparison, Mr. Obama's biggest accomplishments have been
largely defensive: a full withdrawal from Iraq and devastating
strikes against the core leadership of Al Qaeda. …