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Foreign-policy setbacks deepen Obama's election wounds

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President Obama touched down in a rainy Portuguese capital Friday morning. He's in Lisbon for two days of meetings with NATO allies and the European Union.

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Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said "it would be a mistake to overly conflate" the midterm results and the resistance Obama is facing on several important foreign policy issues.

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"The president remains a very respected and strong figure on the global stage," Rhodes said. "That's borne out in the esteem he's held in by foreign publics and by his relationships with world leaders. That's borne out by the way the United States sets the agenda in international forums, as is certainly the case with the NATO summit this weekend, and in the new relationship he's building with countries such as India."

He noted that Iraq's leadership recently formed a new government, eight months after elections, after Obama's attention and steady lobbying by such senior administration figures as Vice President Biden.

"At any given time in national security, there's issues where there is positive momentum and there are moments when there are challenges," Rhodes said. "I think it's a mistake to cherry-pick these to fit some narrative."

Much of what Obama achieved in Asia, most notably improved relations with India and its growing middle-class market, were the result of moves he could make on his own.

He endorsed India's bid for a seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council, for example, and waived export controls making it harder for Indian high-tech companies to do business with the United States.

Obama's trouble has come when he has needed a partner to get what he wants.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to lobby for an additional three-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction in an attempt to get direct talks with the Palestinians back on track.

But in return, Obama, who has called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories "illegitimate," has agreed to not ask Netanyahu for a further extension if this one is approved and to press Congress to quickly approve $3 billion in military sales to Israel.

Obama placed his prestige behind the talks at their September launch, only to see them founder a few weeks later when Israel's 10-month settlement moratorium expired and building continued on land Palestinians envision as part of their future state.

National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama's foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.

At home, Obama is relying on the Senate to further his efforts to reset relations with Russia.


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