Last time I wrote about him, I gave a nice soft ‘well done’ to outgoing President Obama. Here’s the ‘but’.
As the US heads towards Presidential investiture on January 20th, we get to the stuff Obama made worse or left in the international Too Hard basket. President Obama is bequeathing to President-elect Trump a set of policy challenges far harder than those he inherited.
The grand strategy that has guided post-Cold War Presidents thus far – Bush, Clinton, Bush II, Obama – looks to be at a crisis point (sure, they say that to all the newbies, but hear me out).
Obama continued Bush II’s Asia strategy (although he turned ‘pivot’ into ‘piroutette’). Development aid in sub-Saharan Africa continued (Although Sudan went forward, split, then reversed in a hurry). He troop-surged in Afghanistan (with little long-term effect). He threw everything into stabilizing Iraq and neutralizing Iran (slowly successful, except for making an unnecessary total mess of the rise of ISIS). He made no useful inroads into anything to do with the poisonous influence of Saudi Arabia, and a colossal mess of anything to do with the Arab Spring.
Certainly not all of these uneven results are his fault, and most have been worth trying. But trying don’t look so good for the world right now. What hasn’t helped is that Obama has certainly been undercut by the corrosion of a number of assumptions about post-Cold War strategy becoming quite contestable. A few of the really big assumptions could start to fall away soon:
All of the above has been true, at times, since WWII, but is far less so now.
I’m not wishing the decline of the U.S. The decline of strong, democratic, rich, stable, free states including the U.S. is not in my interests, or IMHO the whole world. Decline would be a bad idea because the alternatives are of a measure so bad that they could only be measured on the co-sine button of my calculator.
I’m not at all confident that the reactionary buffoon the U.S. has elected will be up to re-writing a set of overall grand strategy objectives. (After all, I was a Hillary supporter, and she had memorized the above and its challenges from the back of an envelope!). It is in my interests to hope that Trump has what is takes to – ouch – make America great again (I’m preparing the normalization of Trump for TS readers, you see).
Trump faces a great and solemn assignment as part of his job. His responses to the above will go a long way to determining the success of his presidency.