BY DAVID SANOK
Editor's Note: Derek Chollet spoke to the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire last November about his recent book, "The Long Game," and our intern, David, reviewed the book for our January 2017 e-newsletter. His opinions do not represent an endorsement by the Council.
Derek Chollet's book The Long Game examines the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama. Chollet makes the case that Obama's decisions in foreign policy were largely successful in keeping the United States out of another war. Having worked under the Obama administration as an insider, Chollet is able to provide a closer look at the foreign policy decisions made behind closed doors as well as an in-depth analysis of the situations Obama faced at the world stage such as Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Chollet's book analyzes not just Obama's approach to foreign policy crisis’s, but also the circumstances that lead to America electing a president like Obama. Chollet examines how the Bush presidency conducted foreign policy prior to Obama and why the regime change philosophy of the Bush administration lead to many voters wanting a change.
During the 2008 election, the Iraq War was one the major issues debated by the candidates as whether to withdraw or not. While Republicans were generally in favor of remaining, most Democrats favored leaving, Obama sought to stand out from the rest of the democratic field by taking a more balanced to foreign policy. To accomplish this, Chollet examines the two strategies Obama adopted that helped distinguish himself from candidates such as Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
Firstly, Obama ran a campaign based on his better judgment because of his early opposition to the Iraq War from the start whereas Hillary, despite running on experience, voted for the war. Secondly, while Obama championed a withdrawal from Iraq, he also sought to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Obama's reasoning behind this was that America needed to focus on Afghanistan because Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Bin Laden were the ones who attacked America on 9/11. Obama was seeking a middle of the road position on foreign policy to maintain stability in the middle east. Obama continued to launch missiles and drone strikes on terrorist groups, but discontinued the ground troops strategy of the Bush administration.
These two strategies served Obama well again when dealing with Russia and Egypt as Chollet again gives credit to Obama for being both tough and cautious with Russia over its interventions in Ukraine and Syria. According to Chollet, Obama's use of economic sanctions was a successful use of toughness on Russia because it put pressure on President Putin to pull out of Ukraine. At the same time, Obama resisted calls from war hawks on both the left and right of the political spectrum who wanted to install a no-fly zone in Syria in case Russia tried to intervene there. Obama, however, recognized the danger of a no-fly zone because of the risk it posed of igniting a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. By adopting sanctions, Chollet argues Obama achieved peace through strength for he succeeded in damaging Russia economically and slowing down their military expansion- all without having to fire a single shot.
Throughout the Obama presidency, many governments in the Middle East were overthrown by military coups. One of the most notable was the Egyptian military coup that took place in 2011. Chollet argues Obama was right in resisting calls to intervene in the overthrow of the Egyptian government and instead work to build a relationship with the new regime. Although Egypt is now ruled by a military dictatorship, they have continued to honor existing treaties such as the 1978 peace accords with Israel and maintain a working relationship with the United States.
When it came to the military coup in Libya, Chollet defended Obama's handling of the situation despite the widespread criticism his administration received over it's decision to intervene. Although Gaddafi's death has created instability in Libya and lead to an ongoing civil war between rival factions, he still praises Obama for successfully removing Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi from power. Chollet credits Obama's decision to reach to different countries across the world and rebel groups in Libya without sending in ground troops or going in alone without allies like Bush did with Iraq.
Overall, I highly recommend “The Long Game” because it offer a unique inside view into why Obama did what he did in foreign affairs and why his policies were successful. Even if you as a reader think Obama's foreign policy was a failure and disagree with Derek Chollet's arguments, The Long Game is still worth a read because Chollet backs up his arguments based on his personal experience and includes detailed research of what Obama faced and the aftermath of his decisions.