A measured insider’s account of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that the very aspects that bring conservative derision represent subtle, long-term strengths.
Chollet (co-author: The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World, 2011, etc.), who served Obama for six years in positions including assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, relies on his heavyweight credentials and personal perspective in a spirited, thoughtful defense of how Obama responded to both George W. Bush’s missteps and the spiraling chaos that has greeted his own goals. He argues that the cool, cerebral Obama has pursued an oft-misunderstood “long game,” relying on long-term planning that has minimized the risks of Iraq-style quagmires. “Obama is like a foreign policy version of Warren Buffett,” writes the author, “a profoundly pragmatic value investor.” Like a tycoon’s discreet adviser, Chollet positions himself as a defender of Obama’s ambitions, portrayed as feckless by those for whom “the answer is almost always for the US to do more of something and to act ‘tough.’ ” Aptly, the author begins with the “red line” crisis presented by Syria’s chemical weapons; Obama was called weak for a restraint that led to the repressive regime relinquishing those munitions. Chollet then looks backward, arguing that Democrats felt a mandate in 2008 to remake foreign policy in line with Obama's broader advocacy of change: “The ascendance of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy was a key impetus behind Obama’s rise.” Yet despite Obama’s mandate to take a leaner approach to fighting terrorism while resolving conflicts in the Middle East, cascading crises in Libya and Egypt and the rise of the Islamic State group seemingly point out the limitations of Obama’s long-distance planning. As Chollet avers, “for Obama, the greatest threat that ISIS poses is that in responding to it, we lose sight of the Long Game.” With respect to Vladimir Putin’s aggressive Russia, the author notes, “Obama’s alleged ‘weakness’ did not drive Putin’s aggression.”
A cogent, detailed policy review, effectively studded with first-person recollections, that probably won’t sway Obama’s conservative critics.