Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

White House front walkway with President Obama walking in.

Which Way for US Foreign Policy?

When US President Barack Obama spoke at the UN about countering the Islamic State, many of his critics complained that he put too much emphasis on diplomacy, and not enough on the use of force, with some even complaining about a return to isolationism. But partisan political rhetoric is no substitute for rigorous policy analysis.

BANGALORE – When US President Barack Obama recently spoke at the United Nations about countering the Islamic State, many of his critics complained that he put too much emphasis on diplomacy and not enough on the use of force. Comparisons were made with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war; and, with the US presidential election campaign shifting into high gear, some Republican candidates accused Obama of isolationism.

But such charges are partisan political rhetoric, with little basis in rigorous policy analysis. It is more accurate to see the current mood as a swing of the US foreign policy pendulum between what Columbia University’s Stephen Sestanovich has called “maximalist” policies and “retrenchment” policies.

Retrenchment is not isolationism; it is an adjustment of strategic goals and means. Presidents who followed policies of retrenchment since the end of World War II have included Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and now Obama. No objective historian would call any of these men isolationists.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/LhQcNxc;
  1. leonard52_Frank Augstein - WPA PoolGetty Images_borisjohnsonthumbsup Frank Augstein/WPA/Pool/Getty Images

    The End of the EU’s Brexit Bounce

    Mark Leonard

    After years of watching the United Kingdom muddle through a political crisis while enjoying an unprecedented level of unity among themselves, Europeans now must prepare for darker days. Negotiations over the future UK-EU relationship will inevitably divide Europeans and offer fodder to Euroskeptics.

    1

Edit Newsletter Preferences