Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy

Trump’s convention-violating rhetoric on foreign policy has exacerbated an already ingrained frustration among many hawks that President Obama was too reluctant to intervene on the world stage. Indeed, one of the most widely believed myths in Washington foreign policy circles is that Obama betrayed the longstanding grand strategy of primacy in favor of withdrawal. Former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden criticized “the Obama administration’s retrenchment” on national television. Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, wrote in January that Obama presided over “restraint and retrenchment” and “focused mostly on limiting the exercise of America’s military power.” Thanks to Obama’s “inaction,” he claimed, “vacuums emerged and were then filled in ways that damaged American interests.”


Hawkish critiques of Obama’s foreign policy, however, miss the mark. Obama’s foreign policy record was certainly far from perfect, but not for the reasons hawks provide. In fact, a close analysis suggests that Obama’s greatest foreign policy failures resulted from an embrace of the grand strategy of primacy, rather than from restraint.

Read the working paper at Cato.org.

Published by Trevor Thrall

I am a professor at George Mason University and Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program.

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