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December 01, 2012

Obama Foreign Policy - Book Review Edition
Posted by David Shorr

ObamiansCover-209x300 173619969For everyone wondering what the foreign policy junkie in their lives wants for Christmas or Hanukkah, I've written a review of two recent books bound to be of interest.

Oh let's face it, the only people who read this blog are foreign policy junkies themselves. So maybe you could buy the David Sanger and/or James Mann book for yourself, or someone else. (Do wonks give their wonk loved ones wonkish gifts?)

Any way, my essay on these two first-drafts of the history of Obama foreign policy appears in the new issue of Policy Review. The authors are two of the most respected journalists on the beat and approach the subject from different angles. Sanger's account is the story of an administration working the levers of the US government's national security apparatus, whereas Mann situates the administration's overall worldview in the political debates that shaped it. Here's how I described the contrast:

The books’ subtitles hint at the authors’ shared questions of interest but also their divergent styles and methods. Sanger’s book is about Obama’s “surprising use of American power,” whereas Mann focuses on a struggle to “redefine American power.” Sanger, who is the New York Times chief Washington correspondent, takes readers more deeply into the workings of national security policy execution; he watches President Obama and his advisers preside over the machinery of statecraft. The revelations that have earned the book buzz as well as controversy — the cyberwarfare used to sabotage Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges — are the fruits of this method.

While Sanger delves into the Obama team’s exertion of American power to discern a policy style, James Mann is interested in their deliberate efforts to devise a foreign policy framework matching their view of 21st-century realities. He wants to know whether they could “bring about a new American relationship with the world, one that was less unilateral in approach and less reliant on American military power.” Applying the same approach as his earlier book about President George W. Bush’s foreign policy team (The Vulcans), Mann focuses on the perspectives and ideas that policymakers bring with them into government.

But as they say, read the whole thing


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