America Self-Contained? A Symposium
Obama’s “Greta Garbo Moment”

The leader of the world’s only superpower just “wants to be alone.” Part of the symposium: “America Self-Contained?

Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 5 | Published on: April 8, 2014
Josef Joffe is a member of TAI’s Executive Committee. He is editor of the German weekly Die Zeit as well as fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford, where he also teaches U.S. foreign policy. His latest book is The Myth of America’s Decline (W.W. Norton).
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  • stanbrown

    Obama’s foreign policy is empty because he is. Self-satisfied, supremely arrogant, disinterested and disengaged — the duties of the office simply aren’t worthy of his time and attention. After all, he’s got a golf game and a shooting stroke that both need a great deal of work.

  • Palinurus

    To the extent that some grand strategic theory underlies Obama’s beliefs — and this is what he thinks, not necessarily what he does — I suspect it’s some sort of repentant-progressive cosmopolitanism.

    For these citizens of the world, the shining city on a hill is a novus ordum academicorum. In this world, foreign policy is no longer subject to the iron-clad imperatives of geography, history, and power, a zero-sum struggle for dominance and honor in which the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. These are the bad old ways of the Westphalian nation-state system. The historical dialectic has transcended all that by bringing forth a generation of right-thinking, enlightened progressives. The struggle of our day is the effort to eradicate the vestiges of the old order and perfect the implementation of the new.

    Unlike their forbearers, the leaders of the novus ordum academicorum are not in thrall to racism, nationalism, or the other forms of self-interested cupidity that animated past world leaders. This New Man is more than ready to apologize for the sins of his fathers; he has succeeded to the power and prestige of his forbearers but not their guilt; and he will ascend to heaven by confessing the sins of other men. The true bond of citizenship is sharing these beliefs and ideals; this is a creedal cosmopolitanism of the right-thinking. These cosmopolites will together establish the new order via treaties and international organizations eliminating carbon emissions, reducing inequality via welfare statism, and protecting and promoting certain favored minority rights. In doing so, they will redeem the sins of the old order. Protestations of democratic process, liberal or national rights (property rights, liberty, freedom of consciousness), a sense of national exceptionalism and pride — these have all been relegated to the ash heap of history.

    That certain people or even leaders don’t “get” this and act otherwise does not detract from the rightness of the novus ordum academicorum; quite the contrary, it confirms its moral and metaphysical superiority. They’ll either come along eventually or be left behind inevitably. Hence too the departures from Obama’s world view in practice. Just as Lenin had to resort to capitalism shortly after the Russian Revolution, so too Obama. He is likewise saddled with the devastation wrought by his predecessors, and must deal with a world populated by bitter-enders of the old order — the benighted many who do not realize the revolution in consciousness that has occurred or who impulsively and self-interestedly resist.

    • Jim__L

      The philosopher-kings are finally reigning — and lo and behold, they have flaws too.

  • Anthony

    “…Doctrinal surfeit has turned into dearth….So where in the American ideology is Barack Obama?….He seems to be floating in the here and now.” Indifferent unilateralism plus indifferent realism are interesting conception. Nevertheless, perhaps what Josef Joffe is really alluding to is summed up in the parable the emperor’s new clothes. That is, many in American electorate engaged in a sophistication (not to see what one really sees) and elected a cultural symbol rather than a leader. For this reason, now many bemoan that the emperor has no clothes…. On the whole, essay begs how is this president of a piece with American history beyond its domestic shores? (My answer: you may not get all you pay for but you certainly pay for what you get!).

  • Pete

    “Where in America’s creedal pantheon would we seat Obama?”

    He’s an incompetent affirmative action baby who never did a constructive thing in his life.

    • Anthony

      America’s war over affirmative action has been distraction and each side has its arguments. But, President Obama’s foreign policy shortcomings are not attributable to said. And to tie foreign policy doctrinal deficit to such highlights an obsession not with policy incompetence but perhaps with the ongoing war…

      • stanbrown

        It is a fact that Obama is incompetent. It is a fact that he was elected because he is black. The incompetence has nothing to do with anyone’s obsession.

        • Anthony

          Develop some insight young fella before you hastily characterize; you assert because you believe. Now, on this I am done (24 hours later, I move on).

          • stanbrown

            I have all the insight I need little one. There is absolutely nothing hasty about my statements. You are, of course, entitled to whatever foolishness you wish to believe. I won’t argue with you about your religion.

          • Anthony

            My man you’re new to this site and obviously think dogmatism (assertions, ideas, opinions, etc. to make one feel certain and strong) represents analysis so fine with me. Lets do each other a kindness and bypass future correspondence. Because prior to your reply, I was unaware of your existence (nothing personal just acknowledgement). So hence forward, leave me ~~~~ alone.

    • Jim__L

      Not particularly nice, but it fits the facts.

  • Breif2

    “In a great number of cases, I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer act – I understand that Dr. Oppenheimer acted – in a way which for me was exceedingly hard to understand. I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands which I understand better, and therefore trust more.”

  • Jim__L

    Obama wants to turn America into a Eurosocialist country — free goodies for existing, and not enough defense spending to assure existence.

    There is no longer any sense that the contributions of anyone other than the robber-barons or philosopher-kings matter. Unless this changes dramatically, America will become lotus-eaters, and succumb to any culture that knows how to take initiative.

  • lhfry

    Don’t we have troops in Africa pursuing the Lord’s Resistance Army?

  • Anthony

    President Obama makes convenient (and easy) target for ideological and tendentious driven – searching for narrative to fit both predilection and imagined facts despite nuance of referenced work. Someone somewhere once said a little bit of knowledge can be beguiling.

  • Ghosts of Benghazi

    Obama is a grifter, fake and fraud………

  • diderot à la campagne

    He is just pragmatic, sensitive to the constant changes happening, and aware of the new complexity of the world, with several powerful actors being on the geopolitical field. This is no need of any “doctrine”, a doctrine is ideological, a rigid frame and not adapted to the spirit of the time. The neoconservative unilateral moment, this doctrine, was just foolishness and we understand why the great majority of americans don´t want to be involved again in ridiculous messianic like adventures in mideast which have destroyed an already weak international reputation.

  • Jim

    The author is welcome to take my place on the front lines in the next donnybrook. Screw him, the Republican scumbags that keep Benghaziing the country and the oil companies that promote these gas country stickups.

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