Obama: America ‘Does Not Control Everything Around the World’

President Obama arrives to speak to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room, on August 1, 2014.

Connor Radnovich/AP

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President Obama arrives to speak to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room, on August 1, 2014.

In a sober, somewhat resigned press conference, President Obama says the U.S. can’t solve every problem in the world. By Brian Resnick

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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