Obama's foreign policy justifiably sits upon realism and error proofing.

The undignified reception that Barack Obama was prepared for in Cuba is grist for the mill of his critics. They do not reject the reconciliation with the repressive island nation, but rather completely reproach the president of the Unites States for having squandered its role as a world leader over the past seven years. He is abandoning America's traditional allies and playing into the enemies' hands. He stood by and watched the chaos of the Arab Spring, and acts helplessly in the face of the Islamic State and other jihadis. He neglects Europe, stood too little behind Ukraine and made it possible for Russia to return to the Syrian arena. He gives China a blank check in the South China Sea and in foreign trade. He betrays Israel and Saudi Arabia in favor of Iran, and allows himself to be made a fool of by the Castro brothers in his own backyard.

As a matter of fact, the U.S. is functioning as weakly as it ever has since the end of World War II. And even though foreign policy is a secondary priority for most Americans, they nevertheless hang onto the idea of world leadership — and fall en masse for the promises of Donald Trump: He will "make America great again."

'Don’t Do Stupid Stuff'

But that which right-wing critics condemn as a politics of decline can also be understood as sensible navigation in an increasingly complex world. At least Obama seems to, as one can deduce from his words in Jeffrey Goldberg's long article in The Atlantic, "The Obama Doctrine." According to [the article], the president analyzes the hotspots like a political scientist and always asks where political and military resources can be most effectively deployed. His main emphasis is to not make any serious errors ("don't do stupid stuff") and by and large to free himself from obsolete foreign policy conventions.

The end of Cuba's isolation fits right into that, like the nuclear deal with Iran and the increasing distance from Saudi Arabia. Here, Obama combines personal pride — he considers himself smarter than all of the other heads of state — with national humility: The U.S. simply cannot solve all of the world's problems. "Manage instead of lead" is this president's motto.


Such rationality would be insufficient if the U.S. were again faced with aggressive rising powers. With reasoning [like that], Adolf Hitler would not have been stopped long ago, and containing communism still also requires occasional muscle flexing.

But the big new enemy of the West is not in sight. Vladimir Putin's Russia and Xi Jinping's China have as many of their own problems as their neighbors make for them, and they are plagued by the fear of decline themselves. The Islamic State group is losing ground, thanks to U.S. policy of small but not always ineffective steps.

His critics only seldom have convincing answers ready regarding the subject of what Obama should have done differently. Hillary Clinton's call for more activism is, especially in light of the fiasco that was her operation in the Libya intervention, hopefully just election rhetoric. In an uncertain, torn world, Obama's America is certainly not lacking strength. And it will only be known in hindsight whether or not certain foreign policy decisions were astute.