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America Self-Contained? A Symposium
Obama’s Pragmatic Internationalism

The President takes the long view, and his caution in the global arena is no mistake.

Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 5 | Published on: April 8, 2014
G. John Ikenberry is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. During 2013–14, he is the 72nd George Eastman Visiting Professor at Balliol College, Oxford Universisty.
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  • Anthony

    “American internationalism and deep engagement with the world may be in trouble. But it is not Obama who threatens this great American postwar global tradition.” Very informative essay (definitely requires at least two reads) and insightful relative to current foreign policy commentary for general consumption.

  • Fat_Man

    Ikenberry: You must get dizzy from all that spinning.

  • ShadrachSmith

    “America’s image in the world has improved under Obama,…”

    What are you smoking?

  • Ghosts of Benghazi

    What a rag this was? Love when liberal sycophants cover for this idiot, bumbling fool that is our “president”

  • Corlyss

    The above analysis bears a striking resemblance to the administration’s response to the CBO’s Report that Obamacare will reduce the workforce by approx. 2 million workers ( and likely more than that). The admin. celebrated the liberation of all those workers from tedious and unrewarding jobs so they could “follow their bliss.” Obviously this gent is putting European lipstick on the collapse of an ill-considered, ignorant, and amateurish American foreign policy but which represents the kind of timidity and lack of self-confidence the European foreign policy elites desperately prayed for in the Bush II administration.

  • Arkeygeezer

    As Joe Biden told G.W.Bush, “you are leading Mr. President, but nobody is following.”

    Presiden Obama’s problem is basic. He lies a lot. Now nobody believes him.

  • Anthony

    Ikenberry appears more an advocate of enduring power of the liberal order (global arrangements since FDR) than Obama apologist. He happens to interpret existing world order (novus ordo seclorum) from perspective that generally is not heard/read in normal echo chamber of particular blogs, web sites, electronic media, etc. But an administration apologist he hardly could be categorized – check his professional work.

  • El Gringo

    “Not being George W.” is hardly a basis for a foreign policy.

    • Corlyss

      Agree. What was one of the biggest themes of 2008? The electorate demanded CHANGE. They were going to get it without doing anything because Bush’s term was up. Considering the fact that McCain has NEVER been a movement conservative, but a RINO, he would not have been a continuation of Bush policies. In fact, the inside joke in 2008 was that all THREE of the presidential candidates were backed substantially by Soros and his Open Society foundation. What about this was NOT change?

  • Blaton Hardey

    This article focuses way too much on Obama, when in fact thousands of other factors play into policy and decisions…

    • JMHanes

      Foreign policy is the constitutionally mandated domain of the President. Thousands of other factors always play into every president’s foreign policy decisions!

      • Blaton Hardey

        I have not made myself clear. I don’t mean Obama’s decisions but the decision-makers’ decisions. Obama is not the decision-maker.

        • JMHanes

          I’m not at all sure what decision-makers you have in mind.

          • Blaton Hardey

            If you think the White House has a plan for everything and makes every little decision in foreign policy to be made, well… talk to some people in D.C. and beyond. You might be surprised to find a whole new chaotic microcosm of power.

  • qet

    Ikenberry’s “long-game” hypothesis is not falsifiable, so no one can say he is “wrong.” But, his entire hypothesis depends on what is meant by the terms “its {i.e., America’s] interests” and “international order.” Ikenberry echoes Fareed Zakaria who defends Obama’s foreign policy in almost the same terms–the terms, that is, of some new international order, real or imagined, constituted by very modern notions of international human rights norms.

    It would seem, however, that the current state of affairs in the world does tend to falsify Ikenberry’s thesis. This new order being proclaimed (and only in the most abstract, aspirational terms, I might add) by Ikenberry and those of his ilk appears to be subscribed only by the Rice/Power/Slaughter wing of the US foreign policy establishment and the EU HQ in Brussels. The rest of the world appears to be violently rejecting it. Of course, all of this violent rejection could just be birth pangs. Perhaps Russia and China are merely bluffing, allowing their more hotheaded elements some room to discharge some of their pent-up energies before they reach the point of explosion. But, the idea that Obama has built or is building “an international coalition to sanction Russia” is risible. The Middle East does not appear to be bluffing, however. Maybe it is in the US interests to have Iran become our vassal hegemon over the Middle East, to keep order there where we can’t. A few beheadings for adultery from time to time is not an unreasonable price to pay for such an order.

    But I must say that Ikenberry’s analysis, whatever its truth, is utterly unconvincing. Ikenberry appears to be singing a lullaby to himself, trying to reassure himself that terms like “multi-polar” and “deep engagement” have meaning. Maybe they do, but at this time the whole thing sounds only like a first draft of someone’s honor’s thesis in their senior seminar.

  • JMHanes

    Aside from the predictable false choice between Ikenberry’s internationalism and (imperialistic!) military adventurism, Obama has been a spectacular failure even in the emblematically aspirational terms laid out by Mr. Ikenberry. Ikenberry offers up a generic internationalist mission statement, calls it a long range plan, and dismisses Obama’s lack of any certifiably solid successes, after nearly six years in office, as a simple function of admirably modest incrementalism. In the meantime, alas, “global partnerships and alignments” have been demonstrably shifting away from American interests, not vice versa.

    The free trade agreement with Colombia didn’t sit mouldering on Obama’s desk because of Republican intransigence. Aside from domestic immigration issues, Obama has no discernible foreign policy agenda in our own hemisphere at all. Even the once dependable U.S.-Canadian alignment is looking shaky. Nor is the opposition responsible for Obama’s failure to negotiate an actual trans-pacific deal which could even be put to a vote. While China’s signature on the Law of the Sea Treaty has hardly inhibited its ambitions, Mr. Ikenberry ignores President Bush’s own high profile support for its ratification. Let us also not forget Obama’s ridicule of Romney’s commitment to refurbishing the Navy, when only the clueless could miss the maritime confrontations with China already looming on the near horizon. Obama has since discovered that having a Navy to deploy serves our economic, not just defensive, interests.

    Instead of restructuring a post-war relationship with Iraq as a potentially game-changing ally in the pushback against Iranian nuclear ambitions, Obama arbitrarily abandoned it to al Qaeda and Iranian insurgencies. In a truly stunning shift, the Saudis have decided that Pakistan will be a more reliable strategic partner than the United States. Putin’s encroachment on Georgia pales in comparison, and consequences, to his ongoing dismemberment of Ukraine. Bush’s push to revitalize and modernize NATO could be standing us in good stead, if Obama had shown any interest in building on those efforts. Ditto for nurturing strong relationships with “New Europe.” Has anyone, including Obama himself, ever taken any Obama deadline seriously?

    Focusing on military interventionism also conveniently obscures Bush Administration successes elsewhere. Contra Obama’s subsequent bumbling, Bush substantively advanced a critical partnership with India, as an economic and political counter to grave concerns over Chinese intentions. The very public “indignities” heaped upon Obama by a worrisome Brazil-Russia-India-China coalition in Copenhagen make a telling contrast. In an historically unprecedented achievement, Bush persuaded Japan to sign onto the Taiwan defense pact. Although he ultimately engaged bi-laterally with North Korea, Bush was the first to push for a regional approach which recognized China, not the U.S., as the sine qua non of containment. There’s plenty more for anyone who cares to look.

    The most glaring omission in Mr. Ikenberry’s assessment, however, is the link between Obama’s putatively farsighted foreign policy and his patently short term domestic political objectives. The line connecting those dots is far shorter and straighter than the serpentine line of defense Obama apologists are compelled to draw. Hope trumps experience on all fronts.

  • Breif2

    “Obama is ‘playing the long game'”

    Gives a new meaning to Keynes’ quip, “In the long run we are all dead.”

  • adk

    Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?
    Chico Marx

    “Me,” says Ikenberry, in great many words.

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