Friday, February 26, 2010

Obama=Carter?: A Review of FP Cover Story

The cover story of the January/February issue of Foreign Policy is a comparison between the 44th President Barack Obama and the 39th President Jimmy Carter by Walter Russell Mead, Henry Kissinger Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (“The Carter Syndrome”; Foreign Policy; January/February. 2010). Conservative civic groups have been mocking Obama as Carter Ⅱ since his inauguration. But this time, a prestigious journal like Foreign Policy talks about similarities between Obama and Carter. Please see the photo below.


Since the one year anniversary of Obama presidency in January, American media and think tanks discuss pros and cons on his leadership. As mentioned in a previous post this January, challenges to Obama have risen from conservatives at home. Grassroots conservatives launch the Tea Party Movement against state controlled health care system. On national security, Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Obama’s counterterrorist measures too weak in the debate with current Vice President Joseph Biden (“Cheney criticizes Obama on national security policy, and Biden fires back”; Washington Post; February 15, 2010).

Despite rapid fall of domestic approval rate, President Obama is very popular abroad. A substantial number of global citizens are so naïve as to exalt Obama, simply because he is the first black president of the United States (Alas, choosing the president based on affirmative action?). However, a Princeton student Christiana Renfro says, “The President should stop focusing on maintaining his popularity as an end in and of itself and start making substantive policy decisions even if they disappoint some members of the international community” (“A Paradoxical Burden: Obama’s Popularity Abroad”; American Foreign Policy: Princeton Student Editorial on Global Politics; February 15, 2010).

In the article to Foreign Policy, Mead classifies diplomacy of US presidents into four patterns as the following (Party affiliation is just a general tendency.).

Hamiltonian: Republican moderate
Strong government and strong military; promote business inertest; realist

Wilsonian: Centrists
Strong government and strong military; promote democracy and human rights

Jeffersonian: Democrat left
Isolationist; small military

Jacksonian: Republican right
Grassroots conservative; detest Hamiltonian business links, Wilsonian do-gooding, and Jeffersonian weakness

A Jeffersonian Barack Obama emerged as an antithesis to his predecessor George W. Bush who is a Jacksonian nationalist and a Wilsonian interventionist. Obama believes that the United States can live with bad regimes, and refrain from overseas commitment to concentrate its resources on domestic reform. However, Mead says as the following.

Jeffersonian policy of restraint and withdrawal requires cooperation from many other countries, but the prospect of a lower American profile may make others less, rather than more, willing to help the United States.

He is right. None of the challengers or adversaries is conciliatory to the United States. Jeffersonian foreign policy worked in the past, because America could free ride on the British world order. Also, the Obama administration needs Wilsonian approaches to promote political reforms in Afghanistan and Pakistan, endorse Dalai Lama, and so forth. Lilia Shevtsova, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, raises serious concerns that Western appeasement to the Kremlin discourages Russian reformists (“The Kremlin Kowtow”; Foreign Policy; January 5, 2009). Obama needs to reconsider his approaches to the Medvedev-Putin administration. Domestic opponents criticize Obama foreign policy too coward.

A mis-combination Jeffersonian and Wolsonian approaches will make Obama another Carter. Mead concludes that Obama needs to strike a delicate balance to deal with challenger and adversary states, the War on Terror, and antipathy to American intervention. The Foreign Policy article by Walter Russell Mead is highly recommendable to understand historical context of Barack Obama’s diplomacy.