2013 - the year in review: Barack Obama's new foreign policy marked the birth of a kinder, gentler nation

When Obama replaced the pins on those missiles aimed at Syria he was listening to his instincts – and to those who voted for him

It is enough to make you nostalgic for those early neo-con days of Bush and Cheney when America trod a predictable path on foreign policy, stuck by its friends and harassed (or invaded) its foes. In 2013, it was neither resolute nor loyal: Israel and Saudi Arabia are seething while buddy status has been conferred on Iran and Cuba.

The flap caused by Barack Obama clasping hands with Raul Castro at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela was the least of the storms. Senator McCain likened it to sucking up to Hitler, but he is good at hyperbole. Washington ruffled far more feathers by drawing Tehran into an interim agreement on restraining its nuclear ambitions and by scaling up for an attack on Syria and then scaling down again.

If you are among those who consider Obama feckless on foreign policy, it is the red line fiasco you might focus on first. In 2011 he said that Syria would cross it if it used chemical weapons. It did this summer. Everything was set for missile strikes until the British parliament and many Americans voiced their disapproval. The president abruptly said he would ask Congress before acting.

But Mr Obama is clear-eyed in a different way to Bush. He thinks thus: “If extemporising in the face of international crises makes me and America sometimes look weak, so be it. My goal is to resolve them without violence and if some unexpected door comes open to make that possible, I will walk through it”. In the case of Syria that was John Kerry blurting out that Bashar Al-Assad could remove the threat of strikes by handing over his chemical arsenal and Russia running with it. (And Assad signing up.)

This has been the year when America showed itself willing to accept that foreign policy is a complex business. Simplistic responses à la Bush are sometimes easier but won’t do. Yes, Iran may be taking Uncle Sam for a ride and yes, Israel and Saudi Arabia are yelling that from the rooftops.  But all that is outweighed by the possibility that peaceful negotiations will remove the spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran.

And while the Syrian civil war rages on, it’s worth asking where we would be now if Mr Obama had succumbed to the old American reflexes of hit now, deal with the consequences later. He wasn’t weak when he replaced the pins in those missiles. He was listening to his own instincts and, by the way, to the instincts of those Americans who voted for him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'