Foreign Policy

Guiding Principles

President Obama has pursued national security policies that keep the American people safe, while turning the page on a decade of war and restoring American leadership abroad. Since President Obama took office, the United States has devastated al Qaeda’s leadership. Now, thanks to our extraordinary servicemen and women, we have reached a pivotal moment – as we definitively end the war in Iraq and begin to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, we have refocused on a broader set of priorities around the globe that will allow the United States to be safe, strong, and prosperous in the 21st century.

To advance America’s national security, the President is committed to using all elements of American power, including the strength of America’s values.

The National Security Strategy

The National Security Strategy, released May 27, 2010, lays out a strategic approach for advancing American interests, including the security of the American people, a growing U.S. economy, support for our values, and an international order that can address 21st century challenges.


Refocusing on the Threat from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan

President Obama took office pledging to end the war in Iraq while refocusing on al Qaeda – particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since taking office, the Obama Administration has focused its resources on al Qaeda and its affiliates. These counter-terrorism efforts have substantially impacted al Qaeda’s leadership, including the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

On December 1, 2009, at West Point, the President put forth a new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that is focused on disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. 

To accomplish this, he said we would pursue three objectives: denying al Qaeda a safe haven, reversing the Taliban's momentum, and strengthening the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future. He also committed to begin the responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011.

On June 22, the President addressed the American people about the way forward in Afghanistan. We have made substantial progress on the objectives the President laid out at West Point, and he made clear that we will begin the drawdown of U.S. troops from a position of strength. We have exceeded our expectations on our core goal of defeating al-Qa’ida – killing 20 of its top 30 leaders, including Osama bin Laden. We have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and trained over 100,000 Afghan National Security Forces.  The U.S. will withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and the 33,000 “surge” troops he approved in December 2009 will leave Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012.

Responsibly Ending the War in Iraq

On February 27, 2009, President Obama announced a plan to responsibly end the war in Iraq.

On August 31, 2010, the President announced the end of our combat mission in Iraq, and Iraqi Security Forces assumed lead responsibility for their nation’s security.

On October 21, 2011, the President announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, as promised. Beyond 2011, the United States will have a normal relationship with a sovereign Iraq, one in which we work together as partners to promote our common security and prosperity. In December of 2011, the final U.S. troops left Iraq, ending America’s war there.

When the Obama Administration took office, there were roughly 180,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – by the end of 2011, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to go down. As we wind down the wars, we are refocusing on rebuilding our nation at home, and addressing a broader set of priorities abroad.

Stopping a Massacre and Supporting the Libyan People

Faced with an imminent massacre by Moammar Qadhafi’s regime, President Obama led in building an international coalition to protect the Libyan people. The United States helped save thousands of lives and stopped Qadhafi’s forces in their tracks. We then supported the Libyan people as they brought down the Qadhafi regime, ending the reign of a dictator who persecuted his people and killed Americans. During our intervention in Libya, our friends and allies shared the costs and responsibilities of action – there were no U.S. casualties or troops on the ground. Going forward, we will continue to support the Libyan people as a friend and partner as they build a democracy.  

Keeping Nuclear Weapons Out of the Hands of Terrorists

On April 5, 2009 in Prague, President Obama declared his vision for achieving the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” laying out a plan for near term practical steps to move in that direction. He proposed measures to: reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons by those states that already possess nuclear weapons, starting first with Russia and the U.S.; to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons by strengthening the international non-proliferation regime and by holding accountable those states that have violated their obligations, such as Iran and North Korea; to prevent nuclear terrorism by securing vulnerable nuclear materials and strengthening international cooperation on nuclear security; and, to develop new mechanisms to support the growth of safe and secure nuclear power in ways that reduce the spread of dangerous technologies. President Obama issued an updated Nuclear Posture Review that reduces the role of nuclear weapons in our overall defense posture by declaring that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners. 

In April 2010, the President hosted the Nuclear Security Summit where leaders pledged specific steps to prevent nuclear terrorism and support the President’s proposal to lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years. 

The Administration also oversaw the negotiation and ratification of the New START Treaty, which President Obama and President Medvedev signed in April 2010 in Prague.  By significantly reducing levels of U.S. and Russia deployed strategic weapons, the Treaty represents a commitment by the world’s two largest nuclear powers to the goal of disarmament.  In addition, the Treaty strengthens the reset in relations between Washington and Moscow that is helping us to address the most urgent proliferation threats we face in Iran and North Korea. 

Promoting Peace and Security in Israel and the Middle East

The United States is committed to a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, including two states for two peoples – Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people – each enjoying self-determination,  mutual recognition, and peace.  President Obama believes that a key component of achieving peace is maintaining the unshakeable U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. He has also said that the core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. That is why the President stated publicly principles on territory and security that can provide a foundation for an agreement to end the conflict and resolve all claims. 

Re-energizing America’s Alliances

America’s relationships with our allies are at the center of our engagement with the world.Since taking office, President Obama has strengthened America’s old alliances, while building new partnerships to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

  • On his first trip overseas, the President visited Europe to begin this process, with the G-20 Summit, the 60th Anniversary NATO Summit, and the U.S-E.U. Summit. During his May 2011 trip to Europe, the President reaffirmed his commitment to the Transatlantic Partnership and its role in addressing global challenges.
  • The President made clear in his speech to the Turkish Parliament and in Cairo that America's relationship with the Muslim world will be based on more than our shared opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
  • The United States seeks to strengthen our historic alliances in Asia while developing deeper bonds with all nations of the region, so that we might work together to confront the challenges of the 21st century, including proliferation, climate change, pandemics and economic instability.  Since the beginning of his administration, the President has made three trips to Asia and supported strategic senior-level dialogues with India and China.

Maintaining Core American Values

Every challenge is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation. This is why the President prohibited -- without exception or equivocation -- the use of torture, and set up a Special Task Force to thoroughly review detainee policy. He also reformed Military Commissions to make the more effective in bringing terrorists to justice consistent with the rule of law. He remains committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which endangers our security.


After years of war, the President successfully led an international effort to ensure the emergence of an independent South Sudan and remains committed to ending the suffering in the Darfur region. Since the beginning of the Administration, we have implemented a whole-of-government strategy to end the violence; to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan; to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; and to assist in negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan even after its independence on July 9, 2011. The President appointed a Special Envoy for Sudan as a strong signal of his commitment to support the Sudanese people.  We are committed to working with the international community to ensure a stable and secure future for the region. 

Restoring American Leadership in Latin America

The future of the United States is inextricably bound to the future of the people of the Americas. We are committed to a new era of partnership with countries throughout the hemisphere, working on key shared challenges of economic growth and equality, our energy and climate futures, and regional and citizen security. We are committed to shaping that future through engagement that is strong, sustained, meaningful, and based on mutual respect.  Less than a hundred days into the administration, the President went to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, where he met with all of the leaders in the Western Hemisphere.  The President also traveled to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to strengthen our partnerships in the Americas.

Ensuring Energy Security and Fighting Climate Change

The President has committed to put America on a path to a clean energy economy that improves our energy security, reduces our use of fossil fuels, and drives a new era of American innovation.The United States recognizes the need to break from old ways that threaten our economy and our planet and the President has committed to investing $150 billion in clean energy research and development over ten years. From the Americas to Asia, he is building new clean energy partnerships that will grow our economy while preserving our planet. 

The U.S. will be a leader in addressing global climate change both by making contributions of our own and engaging other countries to do the same. President Obama has demonstrated the United States’ commitment to a low-carbon future, bilaterally and through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process by working with other major economies to reduce emissions and pursue clean energy.