President Obama Reflects on America’s Inability to Influence the World

In a Friday press conference the president answers the question: “Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world? Have you, yours?”

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
Aug. 1, 2014, 12:04 p.m.

Lately, the pres­id­ent has been strug­gling to turn his vis­ions for for­eign and do­mest­ic af­fairs in­to real­ity. Two sa­li­ent ex­amples: A U.S.-brokered cease-fire for the Ga­za con­flict fell through with­in hours (though for reas­ons bey­ond the con­trol of the U.S.), and it’s un­likely he’ll get any­where near the amount of money he’s asked Con­gress for to deal with the bor­der crisis.

Obama ad­dressed these short­com­ings in a press con­fer­ence Fri­day af­ter­noon. He was asked, “Has the United States of Amer­ica lost its in­flu­ence in the world? Have you, yours?”

Be­low is his re­sponse. It’s can­did, though hope­ful, and marked with a shade of resig­na­tion. (The later quotes were in re­sponse to a sep­ar­ate ques­tion, but con­tin­ued his thoughts on the mat­ter.) Em­phas­is is ours:

Look, this is a com­mon theme that folks bring up. Ap­par­ently, people have for­got­ten that Amer­ica, as the most power­ful coun­try on Earth, still does not con­trol everything around the world. And so our dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts of­ten take time. They of­ten will see pro­gress and then a step back­wards. That’s been true in the Middle East. That’s been true in Europe. That’s been true in Asia. That’s the nature of world af­fairs. It’s not neat and it’s not smooth….

If you look at the 20th cen­tury and the early part of this cen­tury, there are a lot of con­flicts that Amer­ica doesn’t re­solve. That’s al­ways been true. That doesn’t mean we stop try­ing. And it’s not a meas­ure of Amer­ic­an in­flu­ence on any giv­en day or at any giv­en mo­ment that there are con­flicts around the world that are dif­fi­cult. Con­flict in North­ern Ire­land raged for a very, very long time un­til fi­nally something broke, where the party de­cided that it wasn’t worth killing each oth­er. The Palestini­an-Is­raeli con­flict has been go­ing on even longer than you’ve been re­port­ing.

You know, and I don’t think at any point was there a sug­ges­tion that Amer­ica didn’t have in­flu­ence, just be­cause we wer­en’t able to fi­nal­ize an Is­raeli-Palestini­an peace deal. You will re­call that the situ­ations like Kosovo and Bos­nia raged on for quite some time. And there was a lot more death and blood­shed than there has been so far in the Ukrain­i­an situ­ation be­fore it ul­ti­mately did get re­solved.

And so I re­cog­nize with so many dif­fer­ent is­sues pop­ping up around the world, some­times it may seem as if this is an ab­er­ra­tion or it’s un­usu­al. But the truth of the mat­ter is that there’s a big world out there, and that as in­dis­pens­able as we are to try to lead it, there’s still go­ing to be tra­gedies out there and there are go­ing to be con­flicts and our job is to just make sure that we con­tin­ue to pro­ject what’s right, what’s just….

I mean, the fact of the mat­ter is that in all these crises that have been men­tioned, there may be some tan­gen­tial risks to the United States. In some cases, as in Ir­aq and IS­IS, those are dangers that have to be ad­dressed right now. And we have to take them very ser­i­ously. But for the most part, these are not — you know, the rock­ets aren’t be­ing fired in­to the United States. The reas­on we are con­cerned is be­cause we re­cog­nize we got some spe­cial re­spons­ib­il­it­ies. We have to be — have some hu­mil­ity about what we can and can’t ac­com­plish. We have to re­cog­nize that our re­sources are fi­nite and we are com­ing out of a dec­ade of war. And, you know, our mil­it­ary has been stretched very hard. As has our budget. Nev­er­the­less, we try.

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