The new American foreign stance was to be chilly towards friends and nicer towards enemies. Out went the bust of Churchill from the Oval Office, and the Obama administration sent no high representative to Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s most important allies in the Middle East, felt disrespected. There was a sharp contrast between Obama’s dropping of his country’s old friend Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in the face of the Arab Spring, and Putin’s staunch and successful defence of his ally, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria. In Iran, the country where pro-Western feeling is strongest among the population, President Obama did nothing to fertilise the shoots of the “green revolution”, and effectively let the Islamist regime develop its nuclear programme unmolested.
And, of course, he did not like anything military. He withdrew from Iraq, leaving it without US troops and without proper intelligence, and began to do the same from Afghanistan. By a paradox that often afflicts leaders who shun military affairs, he ordered quite a number of deaths. He had Osama bin Laden killed and became the master of the drone strike. When he finally came round to the idea of doing something about Assad’s chemical weapons, he sought (and failed to get) what one critic in the Congress called “legislative authority for a drive-by shooting”.
Mr Obama is not a pacifist. He sees the utility of force in individual tricky situations. It would not be at all surprising if he uses a bit of it soon, in drone or aerial form, in Iraq. What he does not see is its strategic value. He does not grasp, apparently, that the Pax Americana, under whose protection we have lived since 1945, has existed because it has always been backed by the credible threat of force. Weakness is provocative to bad actors, and some of the world’s worst have now been provoked. This seems to have come as an almost complete surprise to the Obama White House. The Peace President is starting to leave a legacy of war.