It looks simpler from the outside. Promise to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, proclaim yourself the tribune of hope and change, receive the adulation of giant crowds in Europe and accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
Obama entered office, as many presidents have, with the assumption that his predecessor's policies were wrongheaded and could readily be reversed.
Because he didn't look like other presidents, in his phrase, he believed he could change the attitudes unfriendly leaders had towards America and have special appeal to Muslims.
This has proved to be naive. Many, if not most Americans, including those who didn't vote for Obama, believe that the election of a black president was a step forward in American history.
But it doesn't have that resonance in much of the rest of the world. Obama went to Cairo in early June 2009 to deliver a speech proclaiming a "new beginning" of the relationship between America and the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Later that month he showed icy indifference to the Green Movement protestors in Iran, presumably hoping that he could still change the attitude of the mullah regime toward America by his willingness to engage in direct negotiations. His expectations were in vain. The mullahs showed they were interested not in talking but in getting nuclear weapons.
And polls show that attitudes in many Arab and Muslim countries are now more negative to America than they were when George W. Bush was president.
Obama's multiple responses to the Arab Spring uprisings and their aftermath have been part of the problem.
Tunisia, the first, presented few problems. In Libya he was content to, as one aide put it, "lead from behind."
This has resulted in the chaos and disorder that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi. Obama retired to the White House family quarters while the attack was going on and jetted off the next day to a campaign event in Las Vegas.
Egypt is the largest Arab nation by far and one critical to U.S. interests. Under Hosni Mubarak, it remained at peace -- though it was a cold peace -- with Israel. It controls traffic and therefore the flow of oil through the Suez Canal.