More on Obama and Honduras

This post, linked by Tom, is a great follow-up to Eddie’s thoughts on Obama and Honduras

Beneath that surface layer, there is a more concrete policy layer. This is where there is a good deal of continuity with George W. Bush’s “third term,” for the reasons I discussed previously. This is a slower, less immediate track, with a short- to medium-term horizon.

Beneath that, however, is an even deeper, third layer, which I described yesterday as the “genetic code” of Obama’s foreign policy, and functions as the long-term conceptual foundation from which it logically flows. For me, Hillary Clinton’s speech to the CFR is the clearest expression of this vision. It involves both institutional transformation in terms of U.S. diplomacy, but also in terms of the global governance architecture. For me, it boils down to replacing the declinists’ “multi-polar” world (terminology I’ve been guilty of using) with what Clinton dubbed the “multi-partner” world. Thomas P.M. Barnett examined why this is so significant in his recent WPR column.

As I said last night, Obama is essentially trying to reduce American ownership of the many crises plaguing the global commons by getting the “rising rest” to buy in and shoulder their fair share of the responsibility for addresing them. The counterparty to that, of course, is spreading globalized privileges and benefits more fairly as well. This is the 30- to 50-year long-term horizon that Obama has fixed, to complement the communication outreach he has been conducting to the younger generation — i.e., the world’s future leaders. It’s neither an easy task nor a sure thing. But I’m convinced it is the wisest choice before us.

As Barnett pointed out, Obama is trying to shift the criteria by which American power and influence is judged to less of a zero-sum calculation. The question is no longer, Did America get what it wants? but rather, Did the world get what it needs? The irony is that, at the same time that he’s trying to change the metrics, Obama continues to be judged on a host of issues — Russia, Israel, Iran, North Korea — by whether or not he got his way.

Perhaps the most clear reflection of a successful Obama foreign policy will be when we begin to systematically look first to regional powers for leadership on regional crises, with U.S. influence functioning as a backstop and guarantor — not due to American decline or weakness, but do to a healthy, functioning global governance architecture that better distributes responsibilities and privilege.

via WPR Blog | The Three Layers of Obama’s Foreign Policy.

Something like this may be true. In effect, Clinton and Obama may be attempting to work through intermediaries, allowing local balances of powers to emerge and then acting as offshore balancers to them. In other words, America is adopting a sort of federalism-of-the-globe, a subsidiarity of interests.

I certainly hope that is the case.

8 thoughts on “More on Obama and Honduras”

  1. I hope it is something on this level of thought and strategy. Its a way of hedging bets on regional players without abandoning them or getting too close that they end up getting burned by sub-standard cooperation. Also, it seems the US will need better working relationships with a variety of countries for the mass of problems we face now and in the future. Unfortunately, it also seems this carries a bit of “Coolness” towards traditional allies that may not sit well now or in the mid-term, ala Britain and Japan. Given the political straits both are in now though, I don’t see how much good the US could accomplish until those situations are figured out.

    It appears HRC has attempted to trap Zelaya into a fait accompli.

    http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2009/07/31/a-tip-of-the-hat-to-hillary.aspx#comments

    “Now Zelaya–who had already started to organize a “people’s army” to take back his office by force–is faced with an unsavory choice: Does he serve out his term respecting his office’s limited powers and giving up any hope to subvert the constitution to stay in power longer, or does he strike off on his own, and try to advance the chavista vision of unlimited presidential power by breaking decisively with his constitutional mandate?

    By ensuring that Zelaya’s choice is presented in those terms, U.S. diplomacy has entirely shifted the dynamics of the Honduran crisis, outflanking the chavista block in the process. All of a sudden, to back the democratically elected president’s return to power is to reject the vision of unlimited presidential power that first led chavismo to rally behind Zelaya. And the authoritarian left, which had invested so much in the Honduran crisis, finds itself able to advance its vision only by declaring open war on Honduras’ broader democratic institutions.”

  2. I wonder if the New Republic plan was ever the plan [1,2,3]

    Presuming that Clinton really has a say in this, and Obama isn’t a dangerous leftist on the international scene, all we need to do is wait until the new election, after which time the question of the sitting duck presidency ceases to matter much.

    Alternative, if Clinton is jerking along Zelaya, his increasingly unhinged statements (“generalized violence,” etc) are a great way of marginalizing him.

    [1] http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=102199&sectionid=351020706
    [2] http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-01-voa7.cfm

  3. Perhaps what is happening is that a) the administrations first response was to denounce what they saw as a military [only] coup and b) let time and Zelaya’s mouth make them look shiny and allow them to avoid backing off their initial assessment.

    If ultimately the US looks good by not overtly supporting the ‘coup’ while at the same time Zelaya stays out of power because of his own intransigence. In many ways it comes as a win-win.

    One problem, though. Other states will want to resist Chavista influence. To whom do they look? Not the US; not the OAS. Honduras had strong enough internal institutions to resist, but what about Nicaragua?

    Relying on regional powers and institutions is one thing (and Bush did so in Asia – Indian and Australia being the agents there), but if those institutions or states aren’t up to the job, the US has to exert its backstop power a little better.

  4. Were you as struck by Obama’s comments to the UN as I was? He’s telegraphing the message America can’t and won’t try to do it all anymore, while preparing the ground for disappointment on a variety of issues that the Bush and Clinton Admins. made big promises and commitments to. If this keeps up and he is re-elected somehow, I think America’s security arrangements could be significantly different from what they have been.

    As I heard him, I thought of your comment on this post about subsidiarity. He let the French and British pound on the Iranians, as well as the Saudis and others in the neighborhood. With Zelaya, while the State Dept. issued a putrid denouncement of the current gov’t’s legitimacy that may cause serious issues in the near future, I was heartened by Zelaya staying at the Brazilian embassy, not the Chavezismo compound. That tells me that as from the beginning, the US has largely let Brazil and Mexico control the debate and messaging on the matter. Our competence may be in question, but our attempt at letting them handle it seems to be a wiser move in the long run.

  5. I watched Obama’s UN speech. I was very impressed by some parts, not impressed in other parts, but in general…

    It definitely appears that Obama is pushing for the United States to act as an offshore balancer, able to influence regional balance of powers to act in our interests, rather than an ‘engaged’ power as we were during the Bush administration.

    Obama’s problems with General McChrystal may be symptomatic of this. He named the General out of a desire to win the war. But strategically, he may not really care. Winning a war in central asia, at the cost of being a grounded power in Central Asia, may be too expensive for Obama.

    I don’t get how our North Korean posture relates to this, unless our direct meetings of North Korea are simply a precursor to abandoning the issue to China, South Korea, and Japan.

  6. They may be more for “public” consumption than substance.

    “We” gave North Korea what they asked for, now look at how they misbehave anyway.”

    Well, it would make more sense for Japan, South Korea, and China to hash it out amongst themselves since they will face the majority of the blowback regardless of the outcome. We are stuck as the “Leviathan” on that one. And if North Korea’s threats and near-attacks on Japan’s territory and interests continue, who knows what the Japanese posture might be like in 3-5 years?

    I agree about Afghanistan. It would seem that the problem of Pakistan looms larger anyway, and that is one where our push on Kashmir in the future may end up doing more good than anything else, leading either way to a “pro-India” future as Barnett and Kaplan would suggest.

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