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TIME: Inside Obama's World

January 19, 2012

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In an exclusive interview with TIME's Fareed Zakaria, President Obama opens up on Iran, Afghanistan, China and the challenges the U.S. faces in navigating a rapidly changing world.

Fareed Zakaria: When we talked when you were campaigning for the presidency, I asked you which Administration's foreign policy you admired. And you said that you looked at George H.W. Bush's diplomacy, and I took that to mean the pragmatism, the sense of limits, good diplomacy, as you looked upon it favorably. Now that you are President, how has your thinking evolved?

President Obama: It is true that I've been complimentary of George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, and I continue to believe that he managed a very difficult period very effectively. Now that I've been in office for three years, I think that I'm always cautious about comparing what we've done to what others have done, just because each period is unique. Each set of challenges is unique. But what I can say is that I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals.

We still have a lot of work to do, but if you look at the pivot from where we were in 2008 to where we are today, the Iraq war is over, we refocused attention on al-Qaeda, and they are badly wounded. They're not eliminated, but the defeat not just of [Osama] bin Laden, but most of the top leadership, the tightening noose around their safe havens, the incapacity for them to finance themselves, they are much less capable than they were back in 2008.

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