But to the extent that the president does “lead from behind,” it is mainly where American interests are secondary or, in cases such as Egypt’s revolution, where Washington’s role cannot be too great lest it delegitimize local allies. With Libya’s revolution, for instance, Europe’s oil flow was directly affected, while no vital U.S. interest was at stake. So it made sense for British and French forces to take the lead after the initial U.S.-led suppression of Libyan air defenses — and the result was a relatively cheap and rapid overthrow of a brutal dictator.
When America’s core security interests have been on the line and the United States has had the power to do something about it, Obama has usually been decisive and led from out front. That’s true for the campaign against al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s increased focus on Asia over the past 18 months, designed to reassure regional allies and remind China of U.S. interests in its neighborhood.
2. Obama apologizes for America.
This charge is a popular refrain on the GOP presidential primary trail. It has its origins in Obama’s tendency during the 2008 campaign to sound at times as if he blamed President George W. Bush’s policies as much as Iranian and North Korean leaders for the breakdown in U.S. dealings with those states. Critics have also cited the president’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, addressing U.S. relations with the Islamic world, as another instance of apology.
While there is plenty to debate in Obama’s foreign policy record, this particular allegation does not hold up. For every Cairo speech acknowledging past mistakes, there has been another — such as the one in Oslo later that year, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize — in which Obama has reminded the world that his top responsibilities are to protect the American people and unapologetically command the nation’s military forces in the wars they are fighting.
His Cairo speech was a recognition that mistakes had been made on all sides, rather than an apology for America. This approach made the defense of American values and interests that were central to the speech all the more compelling.
3. Obama has markedly improved America’s standing in the Muslim world.
Despite his Cairo speech, despite his time growing up in Indonesia, despite his effort to pressure Israel to freeze settlements and despite his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama enters his reelection campaign with his own popularity (and that of the United States) in the broader Islamic world mired at levels similar to those of the late George W. Bush presidency.
Several factors have contributed to this, such as the failure to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the use of drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets.