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THE OBAMIANS by James Mann


The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power

by James Mann

Pub Date: June 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02376-9
Publisher: Viking

An early rough-draft history of the Obama administration’s stance on foreign policy.

This book effectively represents a companion volume to Mann’s well-regarded Rise of the Vulcans (2004), which explored the ascendancy of neoconservatives in President George W. Bush’s administration. Taking a similar approach here, Mann (The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War, 2010, etc.) proves to be a deft, discerning reporter; he also seems committed to writing what amount to temporally useful but perhaps not enduring insta-histories of the foreign-policy–making apparatus of recent presidents. The author initially presents Obama’s foreign-policy approach as redefining America’s relationship with the world from that of his predecessor, in large part by returning to a multilateral approach to global matters. However, Mann makes abundantly clear that Obama’s actual behavior in foreign affairs has relied as much on continuity as disjunction from the Bush administration, and that in many ways, his real divergence is from the foreign policy of Democratic presidents before him, most notably the Clinton administration. Many readers may wonder if it is too early to tell. If Obama fails to win a second term, it becomes much more difficult to argue that he fundamentally transformed American relations with the rest of the world. It is far too early to gauge the full impact of Obama’s foreign policy while it plays out, much less attempt to place that policy within a grander framework of even contemporary history. Future historians will surely rely heavily on Mann’s work, but the book may have come a bit early.

A readable text that covers important ground but lacks the larger perspective the material warrants.