Gideon Rose penned a wonderful piece for Foreign Affairs Magazine, which deftly outlines the nuanced and carefully considered foreign policy of the Obama administration. No matter what cable news blowhards, hyper-conservative columnists, and political opponents have to say about the President's foreign policy, close examination reveals that the administration's efforts have been largely effective. Obama will leave the country, and the world as a whole, in a better place when his second term is complete.
The president is variously painted as a softheaded idealist, a cold-blooded realist, or a naive incompetent. But he is actually best understood as an ideological liberal with a conservative temperament—somebody who felt that after a period of reckless overexpansion and belligerent unilateralism, the country’s long-term foreign policy goals could best be furthered by short-term retrenchment.
I also enjoyed how neatly Rose explains the foreign policy disaster of the second Bush administration, which was preceded by largely successful and measured foreign policy during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies. The decline of America's position in the global political climate was pushed to near disaster during George W. Bush's two terms at the helm.
The Bush administration’s post-9/11 course was neither the heroic success story supporters claimed nor the nefarious conspiracy its harshest critics charged. It took on enemies worth opposing. But it was deeply flawed in both conception and execution, because it tried to muscle history forward, regardless of resistance. It cast its net too wide, taking on too many tasks of too great difficulty with too much haste, too few resources, and too little deliberation. It was a classic cautionary tale of unchecked power goaded into hubris, followed by folly, followed by nemesis. And as a result, Bush bequeathed to his successor a divided country, an economic catastrophe, and two ongoing wars, one of them heading in the wrong direction.
George W. Bush dealt Barack Obama a tough hand, and the President's approach has been strongly shaped as a reaction to Bush's missteps. Obama's policy was one that rejected unilateral military action, replacing it with diplomacy, carefully deployed sanctions, and pragmatism. Obama won the 2008 election through a surge of idealism, but has governed from a place of pure pragmatism. When viewed in this light, I gain a new appreciation for our President. Thanks, Obama. No, really. Thank you.