Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"The Obama Doctrine", Jeffrey Goldberg

I've suspected for a while that Obama is the president most temperamentally similar to me, and this long, intimate look at Obama's foreign-policy doctrine confirms my suspicion (or my bias, perhaps).
“I believe that we have to avoid being simplistic. I think we have to build resilience and make sure that our political debates are grounded in reality. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the value of theater in political communications; it’s that the habits we—the media, politicians—have gotten into, and how we talk about these issues, are so detached so often from what we need to be doing that for me to satisfy the cable news hype-fest would lead to us making worse and worse decisions over time.”
It's quite possible his detached, hyper-logical, nuanced attitude toward international relations has failed to provide the right solutions in certain situations. He also seems to have misjudged other leaders, and/or how their nations would react to those leaders' actions.

All the same, I'm grateful to have had him in the Oval Office. To argue counterfactuals is a game one can never decisively win (or lose), of course, but I strongly suspect we've avoided more than a few quagmires because Obama kept his cool, and kept his eye on the long run.

I have to admit, more and more of the world is embracing irrationality. You can see it in the appeal of ISIS' nihilism to a surprisingly large number of well-educated and not-oppressed young people in the West; in the millions in this country who have embraced the emptiness of Donald Trump; in the hypernationalism of millions of Russians who think Putin is leading them toward a restoration of Soviet-era superpowerdom. I get why more and more people are turning away from established political and economic leaders: these people have no damned clue how to fix the wrenching dislocations of globalization and they have no answers for those disoriented by the pace of change. Yet to embrace a cult or a strongman instead is, well, insane to me.

Maybe Obama is Neville Chamberlain or Herbert Hoover, well-meaning but ill-suited to the time. I'd like to think not, but we won't know unless history produces a Churchill or FDR to follow him. At the moment that looks highly unlikely. (Well no, right now it looks impossible.) In the meantime, I prefer a thinker like Obama to have the reins rather than a self-described "decider" like W. The world isn't simple, no matter how many simplistic people insist it is.

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