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president obama, one year on

Missing from this narrative are two major developments of the past decade: the re-emergence of great power competition involving the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan and others; and the surprising resilience of autocratic capitalism as a viable alternative to liberal, democratic capitalism. In Russia the combination has produced a great power nationalism and revanchism that make cooperation difficult and at times impossible. Russia’s insistence on a geopolitical sphere of interest in its former imperial domain makes it hard to avoid “zero-sum” situations in Eastern and Central Europe and the Caucasus. Russian and American interests diverge in Iran, where Moscow’s understandable desire for money and influence, which would be undermined by any genuine Washington-Tehran rapprochement, may well trump the common interest in non-proliferation. Great power politics intrudes even on that most hallowed of common interests: climate change. The Chinese, who perceive the United States as bent on preventing their rise to dominance in East Asia, cannot help but see Western pressures for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as part of this effort—no matter how hard the Obama Administration tries to offer reassurance. These are just a few examples of a world in which there is as much divergence as convergence, and where even the common interests enumerated by President Obama and Secretary Clinton can be overwhelmed by the clashing interests of great powers with competing ambitions and differing worldviews. One can add other failures of the “new era of engagement”: Iran’s refusal to accept the outstretched hand sincerely proffered by President Obama; the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, despite the administration’s strenuous efforts; the failure to gain any meaningful Chinese help in North Korea. These also ought to be signs that international relations have not really entered a new era—and that some of the “old formulas” that Secretary Clinton insists “don’t apply” today may have more applicability than the Obama team would care to admit. It is no condemnation of the Obama Administration to note that it came to office with an approach to the world that may not survive contact with reality. This is frequently the way
16 The AmericAn inTeresT

things go in the first year for a new President. It was certainly the case with the last Administration. The question is, how quickly can this Administration adjust and devise an approach more attuned to the world as it is?
Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of, most recently, The Return of History and the End of Dreams.

The Right Grand Strategy
G. John Ikenberry
resident Obama inherited the most daunting and intractable tangle of foreign policy challenges of any American leader since the early years of the Cold War. The new Administration found itself saddled with crises and festering problems complex in character and long in the making: unfinished and unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stalled peace talks in the Middle East, hostile states acquiring nuclear capabilities and a deteriorating non-proliferation regime, a global financial crisis and deep economic recession, looming climate and environmental dangers, mounting public debt and strained budgets, and growing “multipolar” worries brought on by a rising China and an estranged Russia. Added to this, the new Administration entered office after years of turmoil in which American popularity around the world and standing among Western allies had fallen to unprecedented lows. Under these circumstances, it is probably forgivable if the new Administration has not yet achieved a long list of breakthroughs and successes. The question to ask is: Has the Obama team articulated a grand strategy that is responsive to these looming global problems? In a world where the threats and challenges are so diffuse and deeply entrenched, the United States needs a grand strategy of global order-building that puts in place frameworks for sustained partnership and collective action on many fronts. The good news is that the Obama Administration seems to be animated by precisely this vision. It appears


candidate Obama remarked to a reporter in 2007: “We can and should lead the world. and it operated more or less within mutually acceptable rules and institutions. First. it is articulating a moderate internationalist grand strategy built on both liberal and realist sensibilities. Obama has moved American foreign policy back into the postwar mainstream. intrusive. The specific threats are many—terrorist networks. but we have to apply wisdom and judgment. It would only be secure if the leaders in the Kremlin understood the logic of deterrence and acted accordingly.” As President. partnerships. is creating a more congenial environment for the United States to pursue its interests. T This has created a growing demand for security cooperation—deep. In effect. multilateralism. together with its emphasis on development. treat minorities and establish rules and enforce treaties matter more today—and will matter even more tomorrow. too. Today. The United States played the leading role in the provisioning of rule and stability. Reflecting this synthesis. WMD proliferation. WinTer (JAnuAry/FebruAry) 2010 17 . In return. Security interdependence was dramatically revealed to the world during the Cold War with the advent of nuclear weapons. Instead. here are two ways in which the Obama grand strategy is putting the United States on a more solid footing to tackle 21st-century international security challenges. The United States provided “services” to the world. we can only be secure together. In effect. And this. We cannot be secure alone. provide public health. The United States appeared to be relinquishing its role as the linchpin of global have learned the right lessons from the misadventures of the recent past. threatening to substitute a more heavy-handed—even imperial—form of that order.” America’s security is increasingly linked to how other people live and act—in more places and more ways. health pandemics. The Obama Administration’s focus on reviving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its vision of radical reductions in nuclear weapons. In the view of many friends and allies around the world. currency and markets—became fused to the wider international order. The United States could not secure itself. Second. other states tied themselves to the United States and accepted Washington’s leadership. the Obama Administration has begun to redefine and reposition the United States as the central hub of the international system. Its unilateralist tendencies. It is realist in its orientation toward great power restraint and accommodation. The election of Obama brought this failed experiment to an end. the world contracted out to the United States for global governance. What people do and how they live matter in ways that were irrelevant in earlier eras. are promising markers in the reorientation of American foreign policy to an age of escalating security interdependence. How people burn energy. The American political system—and its alliances. great power forbearance and democratic community. It is liberal in its orientation toward engagement. the Obama Administration has re-affirmed the old terms of the postwar “constitutional settlement” between the United States and the rest of the world. security interdependence has been dramatically intensified. This understanding of America’s national security predicament is recognized by Obama and is at the center of every one of his major foreign policy statements. “war on terror” grand strategy and invasion of Iraq had the effect of triggering a “constitutional crisis” in world politics. financial upheavals and so forth. multifaceted. human security and multilateral cooperation. It became the hegemonic organizer and manager of Western (and later global) order. But what these threats have in common is that they all reflect a worldwide rise in “security interdependence. The United States was not just the patron of an open. global warming. It is not leading a weary America backward into a retreat from global leadership and engagement. institutionalized. technology. Americans often forget— and the Bush Administration largely ignored— the fact that the United States has for half a century been the provider of global governance. and more generally. Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint. rule-oriented order after World War II. multilateralism and progressive change. the Bush Administration— under the banner of unipolarity and a post-9/11 revisionist agenda—attempted to break out of the old hegemonic arrangements. emphasizing alliances. Obama himself has clearly and repeatedly articulated a coherent vision of these challenges. And much of the world has uttered a collective sigh of relief.

Is he an idealist? Surely. George W. If he were a “real” realist. is why Europeans like him so much: He seems to act and talk like one of them. His actions betray the opposite. George H. idealpolitik (Jimmy Carter). Is he an internationalist? Yes. Obama would devote more attention to allies and friends. Bush)? We used to have a fairly good sense early on where on these axes past Presidents were situated. which sought to enshrine American hegemony. Barack Obama does not demonstrate what all his predecessors have: a faith in American exceptionalism. in 2002. interventionism. or would it seek to impose it in one way or another (Wilson.” He has not launched an arms race like Ronald Reagan. Obama preaches the policy of the “reset button” while reaching out to bitter foes like Iran. yes and no. Within internationalism. nor blessed a National Security Strategy. Yes. one surmises. His guiding lights are multilateralism and institutionalism. John Ikenberry is Albert G. Deep in his heart. give or take a few feet. It will not be able to depend on unipolar capacities or air-tight borders. Nor does he celebrate America as the “indispensable nation. which is the pursuit of interests in collective settings where America is one shareholder among many. A realist would always emphasize conflict in the affairs of nation.S. realpolitik (Nixon. he wants to end America’s military engagements and certainly avoid brazen displays of American muscle. nationalism. which has been a classic of U. You don’t find much “NATO” in his perorations. one year on Looking into this brave new world. a man who has been preaching “change” must believe in the malleability of human affairs. as if the United States were one of the large powers in the European Union. he likes multilateralism and cooperation. But then. G. But then note the absence of any human rights or democracy The AmericAn inTeresT rhetoric. It has lost both in recent years. Cuba or Venezuela with soothing. But then. there has always been an additional distinction: exemplarism vs. he certainly is not willing to give the rest of the world a veto power over American 18 . Bush) vs. So he is a realist? Well. He does not talk the language of power the way Kennedy did once he realized that he was up against a global challenge flung down by Nikita Khrushchev. because he has not reneged on using American power. Would America shine by example and thus bring democracy and human rights to the world by just being there (the Founding Fathers. the United States will find itself needing to share power and rely in part on others to ensure its security. Obama seems to believe in the power of therapy—politics as psychiatry—as if all conflicts were unreal and rooted in misunderstanding or cultural insensitivity. almost apologetic words. Bill Clinton). is the first American President to shift from “light unto the nations” to “one among the nations. the Obama Administration is beginning the process of gaining it back. by preventive war. To operate in this coming world the United States will need—more than anything else—authority and respect as a global leader. But we don’t know where Barack Obama is. Instead. That makes him at best a closet idealist. Nor has he much touched the defense budget. as did George W. Korea. if need be. Above all. He does not draw lines in the sand like Truman in Europe or Johnson in Vietnam. Who Is This Guy? Josef Joffe O ne year into his first term. policy through the ages. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and Global Eminence Scholar at Kyung Hee University. no doubt. we might speculate.” This. we pretty much knew where a new President was located on the classical ideological axes of American foreign policy: internationalism vs. be it in Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama.president obama. In committing itself to a grand strategy of moderate realist internationalism and liberal order building.W. he may be neither a nationalist nor a realist. But he is also a nationalist in the sense that he spends most of his energy in and on America: with health care and cultural politics like gay rights.