WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought on Saturday to cast himself as a strong leader on foreign policy, highlighting a pullout from Iraq and the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as success stories.
In a message Obama is likely to push in his 2012 re-election campaign, he said his leadership had made it possible to turn the page on a decade of war and refocus on bolstering the economy and paying down the national debt.
Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that Gaddafi’s death and the announcement that all U.S. troops would be removed from Iraq this year were “powerful reminders of how we’ve renewed American leadership in the world.”
The emphasis on foreign policy comes as confidence in Obama’s stewardship of the economy has fallen sharply, causing his overall approval ratings to slide to around 42 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
With the economy’s woes weighing heavily on Americans’ minds, Obama may have trouble gaining political traction from his message on foreign policy.
The killing in May of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by a U.S. Navy Seal team in Pakistan brought only a temporary boost to Obama’s poll numbers.
Obama mentioned bin Laden in the radio speech and said victories against al Qaeda — along with the policies toward Iraq and Libya — were “part of a larger story” of success.
“In Libya, the death of Muammar Gaddafi showed that our role in protecting the Libyan people, and helping them break free from a tyrant, was the right thing to do,” he said.
“In Iraq, we’ve succeeded in our strategy to end the war,” Obama added.
Obama said on Friday all troops would leave Iraq as scheduled by the end of this year, after the two governments failed to reach an agreement over giving American soldiers legal immunity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday that Iraq would continue talks with Washington on how U.S. trainers could work with Iraqi forces after the withdrawal.
Prominent Republicans have criticized the decision to fully withdraw troops from Iraq, saying it would embolden neighboring Iran.
Republicans also contend Obama has hurt America’s image by pursuing a “leading from behind” strategy on the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
Mitt Romney, a front-runner in the Republican race to challenge Obama in 2012, accused the president earlier this month of pulling back from the view that America should be the “strongest nation on Earth.”
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman was also critical of the move to withdraw from Iraq.
“The announcement by President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki yesterday was a statement of failure, not success,” the former Democratic vice presidential nominee said in a statement.
“This failure puts at greater risk all that so many Americans and Iraqis fought, sacrificed, and, in thousands of cases, gave their lives to achieve: an Iraq that is self-governing, self-defending, and aligned with the responsible nations of the world in the fight against Islamist extremism and terrorism.”
Writing by Caren Bohan; Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney