But it was most of all the moment Obama almost went to war — threatening to strike Syria after Assad’s mass deployment of chemical weapons in August – that showed his discomfort with open conflict. It was never quite clear what the president wanted to achieve, or how. His decision to roll back the threat of strikes by taking the issue to Congress has been all but forgotten by the American people, but it has emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad and one of its main backers, Russia, who now see him as deeply weak.
Friendlier relations with Iran could remake the context of that conflict as well, if they open doors to cooperation beyond the nuclear issue. Now, it seems, Obama has spent his presidency marching towards those doors – burning many allies in his wake, from Israel to Saudi Arabia. Other former strategic U.S. interests have been all but ignored – Egypt as it descends into military dictatorship, Ukraine and Georgia as they fall back into Russia’s orbit.
But presidents must have priorities and Obama has made his clear. Now he’s earned the foreign policy legacy he campaigned on. And now perhaps the Norwegians can feel a bit more confident about their hasty reward.