Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 14:48 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 14:48 | SYDNEY

Obama: The head and the heart


Andrew Carr


22 March 2011 08:34

An astute observation from Walter Russell Mead:

A certain pattern seems to be emerging in this President’s foreign policy process.  On the one hand, he is instinctively drawn to the cool logic of the Jeffersonian realists who believe that the safest and wisest course for the United States is to draw in our horns and make peace with decline...But when it is time to choose, this President consistently chooses a more active course.  He would rather not think about Iraq, but if he must, he will stick to George W. Bush’s withdrawal plans.  He would rather not have a war in Afghanistan, but since he has one he will escalate the drone strikes and step up troop levels.

Intellectually, the US elite knows that its unipolar moment has passed, and the general public is beginning to recognise it too. But before we see any significant policy shifts, the change will have to be accepted emotionally as well, and that is still a long way off, even for Obama, it seems. Many still do not want to accept this change, hoping to fight against it. 

The emotional rejection of the idea of Western eclipse led to some of the more vitriolic attacks on Hugh White's essay Power Shift, and a similar emotional tug can be seen in Niall Ferguson's latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest. Ferguson's writing is sharp and his reading wide, but the book reads more like a desire to relive the highlights of Western civilisation than someone probing the past to answer present conundrums.

Until the head triumphs over the heart in the West, expect more books like Ferguson's, and more torn leaders like Obama, knowing the change they want, yet unable to pursue it.