Entering his final year in office, President Obama confronts foreign policy dilemmas whose roots are deep and tangled. None will be resolved this year, but he can clear away some of the mess for a successor who can build on his efforts or ruin them.
Al-Qaida, the terrorist organization overshadowed by ISIS in recent years, is enjoying a renaissance, according to US officials. It is rebuilding in Afghanistan, that hopeless land where the US remains mired 14 years after it entered in response to the attacks of 9/11.
The New York Times reports that an al-Qaida branch in Somalia released a recruitment video Friday that included a clip of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposing to bar Muslims from entering the US. The right to free speech, when used irresponsibly, can bump into aiding and abetting the enemy.
Last year ended well in Iraq when its military, aided by US air strikes, chased ISIS out of Ramadi. Monday morning quarterbacks critical of President Obama's withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011 conveniently forget or overlook that the US was an unpopular occupying force and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded our withdrawal from his sovereign nation. However, new moderate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appears to be someone the administration can at least work with.
Good luck to the UN, which will open Syrian peace talks on January 25. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isn't going anywhere, however, which means ISIS won't either, and one is as bad as the other. The limited US role is to help "moderates" where it can find them and avoid the quagmire, which means no US boots on the ground.
Just before the year's end, Iran shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium to Russia as part of the agreement to end Iran's nuclear weapons program brokered by the White House. With congressional Republicans determined to sabotage the pact even though they have no alternative to it, and every Republican presidential candidate opposed, that landmark deal is fragile. So much of our foreign policy, and the prospect of some kind of peace in the Middle East, will depend on the results of the elections this November.