Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Global Viewpoint

With Syria, Iran, has Obama broken the mold in US foreign policy?

Could it be that Obama’s supposed weakness and vacillation on Syria and Iran is actually an 'aha' moment? Is it the first glimmer of wisdom in the dark tunnel of disastrous policy that has defined the decades since America seized the poisoned chalice of the 'world’s sole superpower?'

By Graham E. FullerOp-ed contributor / October 3, 2013

President Obama makes a statement at the White House after he spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Sept. 27 – the first contact in more than 30 years between the leaders of the two countries. Op-ed contributor Graham E. Fuller writes: 'Why can’t the global “burden” be shared with others who have at least as large a stake as [America does] (in Syria, Gulf oil flows, Afghan security, Asian sea borders)?'

Charles Dharapak/AP


Is it possible that President Obama – without articulating it, perhaps without even fully intending it – may have strayed into the radical reforging of American foreign policy?

Skip to next paragraph

For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union – or even the end of World War II – a linked body of enshrined foreign policy axioms may be quietly unraveling: American exceptionalism, American unilateralism, America as world policeman, moral commentator and hector, global hegemon and architect of a “world order.” Yesterday bombs were about to fall on Syria, now they are suspended. After months – years, decades – of talk about possible air strikes on Iran, suddenly we receive accounts of civil exchanges between the American and the Iranian presidents. These may only be false starts, but the larger implications beckon and burgeon. They start with the Middle East but radiate out to touch relations with Russia, China, Israel and the UN, for starters.

Neoconservatives, hawks, and liberal interventionists are aghast; progressives are heartened but holding their breath. Witness the mirror imaging in the US media around these developments. The traditional nostrums don’t vary:

The United States must draw red lines; lines once drawn must be acted upon; US credibility is at stake; military readiness must be pumped to permanent alert in the Middle East to meet permanent security threats; American monopoly of decision-making must be jealously husbanded on all that moves in the world. Hawks stand with liberal interventionists, fearful that Mr. Obama is giving away the American store in acts of colossal naiveté, weakness, and inexperience.

Progressives perceive in these same acts the first glimmers of wisdom and rationality creeping into US policy formulation – hints of strategic perestroika that just might rescue the US from spiraling decades of foreign policy disasters that have undermined the country in countless ways: wartime presidents, global recoil from our policies, massive defense budgets, self-fulfilling proclamation of enemies, interventions, national paranoia, the building of a national security state, and pervasive intrusion into citizens’ private lives in the quest to keep America safe from tireless enemies.

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Editors' picks

Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!