President Obama’s Partisan Foreign Policy

My latest feature for The National Interest looks at the partisan character of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacy.

The political scientist V.O. Key once wrote that “latent” public opinion is the only type of public opinion that government officials truly care about. Politicians do not cater to audiences in the here and now, he suggested, but rather are focused on engineering positive endorsements of their policies among people in the future. Indeed, leaders are quite willing to tolerate poor approval ratings because there is always a hope—an expectation, even—that posterity will bring absolution.

Given his standing in the polls, President Barack Obama can probably be counted among those politicians who have put their faith in vindication by future generations. But Obama will have to wait a long time before anything close to a unanimous verdict on his legacy can emerge—let alone a positive one. This is especially true in the realm of foreign affairs, where Obama’s agenda has been thoroughly partisan and divisive—pleasing to Democrats but anathema to Republicans…

Click here for the full piece.

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Donald Trump is illiberal but he is not un-American

I have a short piece on the LSE’s USAPP blog.

Is Donald Trump’s brand of politics un-American?  The answer, of course, depends upon what it means to be “American.”  For those who see America’s greatest traditions as basically synonymous with liberalism, then the answer is clearly yes: there is nothing liberal about religious tests on immigration, censorship of the Internet, or issuing death threats to the families of suspected terrorists.

For those who adopt a more realistic view of American political development, however, the uncomfortable truth is that Trump does represent some longstanding and deep-rooted strands of national political philosophy.  Critics of the pugilistic billionaire have been slow to grasp this fact; even though Trump’s quintessential Americanness is entirely obvious to his supporters…

Click here for the full piece.

Update: the piece was picked up by Newsweek, here.

Obama, LBJ and the Primacy of Domestic Politics

Ahead of Obama’s last State of the Union address this coming Tuesday, here’s a short piece of mine for The National Interest:

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson gave his third State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress. His speech largely focused on Vietnam, where over 200,000 American troops were then engaged in the war to defeat communism in Southeast Asia. Like President Obama today, LBJ saw himself primarily as a domestic reformer, not a war president, and so it was somewhat challenging for him craft a political message that blended his ambitious plans for a “Great Society” at home with the reality of his costly maneuvering abroad.

When he gives his final State of the Union Address this Tuesday, President Obama will have no such apparent contradiction to grapple with…

Click here to read the full piece.

Great Powers and the Indian Ocean

My first feature of 2016 for The National Interest looks at emerging great power rivalries in the Indian Ocean:

Many analysts believe that the international system is sliding towards multipolarity, a world in which no single great power is in a position to dominate its peers. But among those who subscribe to this view, there is some debate over just how the coming multipolar order will operate. Will great powers work together to uphold order? Will they instead descend into military and economic competition with one another? Or can planet Earth support multiple world orders, co-existent yet separate, each under the sway of a particular great power?

Read it here.