Developing Economies

America's Influence Wanes In The Era Of 'Ad-hocracy'

President Barack Obama i i

hide caption"There is no Obama Doctrine," says Ian Bremmer.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama

"There is no Obama Doctrine," says Ian Bremmer.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The way Ian Bremmer sees it, America's global influence is on the wane. Bremmer, author of The Fat Tail and president of Eurasia Group (Twitter, Facebook), says the U.S. remains the biggest player but it's showing up less often for games.

That's partly because the financial crisis has forced President Barack Obama to focus more on domestic issues.

"There is no Obama Doctrine, in the way there's been a Bush Doctrine, a Reagan Doctrine, a Carter Doctrine," says Bremmer, who's on the podcast today. "Like them, don't like them, they existed. Obama's foreign policy approach is 'I'm going to deal with it as a risk manager, and I'm going to respond to crises as they pop up."

The problem, Bremmer says, is that when a major situation erupts, people don't know what to expect from Obama. "With Bush, we knew," he says. "We probably didn't like it on many occasions, but we knew. This is going to lead to a lot of 'ad-hocracy' on the part of some of our allies and some of our more strategic competitors around the world."

After the jump, Ian Bremmer writes on Obama's foreign policy.

As president of Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer sends a weekly analysis of the global situation. The following is excerpted from his April 20, 2009, note. Bremmer writes:

"With an already deeply divided electorate, it's no surprise that domestic American responses to President Obama's foreign-policy stances depend on where you sit. Democrats hail a new era, delighting in getting the Bush administration behind them. Republicans say the actual foreign policies being put in place are very little different from those pursued by the Bush administration that Obama so criticized...at least, in the second half of President Bush's last term. The Democrats are closer to correct here—Obama's foreign policy intentions are, on balance, a more significant shift toward multilateralism than were generally expected before his inauguration (with the notable exception of the war in Iraq, which Obama generally tried to sidestep, maintaining it as a legacy Bush administration issue). But the Republicans may end up looking vindicated nonetheless, since Obama's ability to effectively achieve meaningful policy gains in the international arena will be seriously limited.

"Perhaps the biggest shift in American foreign policy is the principally analytic, problem-solving approach to foreign policy adopted by the Obama administration. It's by nature more tactical/less strategic than the Bush doctrine; indeed, there's really no Obama doctrine to speak of. In part that's because of President Obama's more pragmatic/less ideological inclinations in an area of policymaking where he's fairly inexperienced (and, thus far, remains lower priority); but it's also because the Obama approach is better suited to a broad variety of strong, and not always agreeing, foreign-policy advisors; and a particularly fast-moving international policy environment, where the Obama administration recognizes it has limited bandwidth to address issues on a global basis. To boil that down into a couple of rules of thumb, that means more modest, nearer-term foreign policy goals (in contrast to the historically expansive nature of a broad group of domestic policy goals), and more plainspoken assessment of the foreign-policy challenges themselves. So, for example, Obama's (and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's) admission that US drug consumption drives the drug war, and resulting political instability, in Mexico; that Pakistan is in no position to support US/NATO efforts in the war against Afghanistan; that years of sanctions against Burma and Cuba have had no definable impact on policy.

"So far, so good. Indeed, it's striking to see the notoriously skeptical Washington thinking class seem reasonably content with all this, insofar as the Obama administration's foreign-policy approach is analytically commonsensical (though perhaps leaving the pundits a little less to write about). But there's a related question of how far this approach actually gets the Obama administration. And it's harder to be enthusiastic on that point.

"In particular, Obama's first months in office have included a number of initial forays on translating this pragmatic approach—along with Obama's significant international political capital—into success on the foreign-policy front. But the international response has remained anemic. That's most obvious in Afghanistan, which Obama has made a strong priority—but with repeated requests for greater European engagement firmly rebuffed; leading to essentially the transformation from a badly coordinated NATO effort to an inadequate American effort (pick your poison). In Europe, Obama made the strongest statements of a US president to date on the importance and urgency of Turkish accession into the European Union. But if American officials were hoping for flexibility and dialogue, instead they got an immediate public rebuff from French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who expressed his firm opposition (and later a private rebuff when the French leader told a group of French MPs that Obama was weak and indecisive).

"North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missile/communications satellite, leading president Obama to call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to condemn the North Korean action. China and Russia opposed firmer sanctions, and that was the end of the meeting.

"The point here is that despite the Bush administration's generally poor record internationally, the only significant foreign-policy crisis actually created under his presidency (and granted, it was a big one) was Iraq, which started to improve with the General Petraeus-led troop surge and change in military strategy and continues on an upward, if unsteady, trajectory today. But all of the other major foreign-policy challenges faced by the United States today are the result of growing structural imbalances in the geopolitical order (the comparative weakness of the United States, the lack of international leadership or effective international organizations, and the growing influence of rogue states and organizations). They weren't caused by the previous administration, and they aren't likely to be much improved upon under the present one."

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