Obama’s second term will hold more of the same in foreign policy, Baker Institute expert says

David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Obama’s second term will hold more of the same in foreign policy, Baker Institute expert says
Barnes: At one level, continuity is not such a bad thing

HOUSTON – (Jan. 22, 2013) – Americans should expect no major departures in foreign policy during President Barack Obama’s second term, according to Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker Fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

In a Baker Institute blog post, “Foreign policy in Obama’s second term: More of the same,” Barnes argued that despite claims to the contrary by supporters and opponents alike, Obama’s first-term foreign policy was fairly conventional.

“There were a few areas where Obama embarked on new initiatives: the ‘reset’ with Russia; the intervention in Libya; the surge in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “Some were successes, like the reset, which yielded a significant new arms control treaty with Russia,. Others were failures, such as the surge, which – at high human and financial cost – has merely deferred the day we will terminate our ill-fated adventure in Central Asian nation-building. Some of Obama’s initiatives are more ambiguous in their consequences, like our intervention in Libya, which succeeded in helping topple dictator Moammar Gadhafi but also fostered instability in Mali and, indirectly, Algeria.”

Barnes said this approach holds clues for Obama’s second term. “Certainly, nothing about Obama’s choices to head his second-term foreign policy team suggests that major strategic changes are afoot. Chuck Hagel, the president’s pick to head the Department of Defense, is a traditional Republican internationalist; the opposition to him among some in the GOP merely reveals the extent to which neoconservatives have captured the party’s foreign-policy thinking. There are few signs that John Kerry, as secretary of state, will break sharply with his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. John Brennan’s proposed move to the head of the CIA again reflects continuity, rather than change; after all, Brennan has been Obama’s homeland security adviser – and chief architect of our drone program – for four years.”

That said, continuity is not such a bad thing, Barnes said. “After all, the last time the United States made a dramatic change in our foreign policy – by launching a major war of choice against Iraq – the results were disastrous. And the challenges confronting the United States in the international arena, though real, are not amenable to dramatic new initiatives on practical or political grounds.”

From 1979 to 1993, Barnes was a career diplomat with the U.S. Department of State; he served in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Barnes. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, associated director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.


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Related materials:

Barnes biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/personnel/fellows-scholars/jbarnes.

Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute sponsors more than 20 programs that conduct research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.