The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World

In This Review

The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World
By Derek Chollet
PublicAffairs, 2016
288 pp.
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The essence of U.S. President Barack Obama’s grand strategy, writes Chollet, a former Obama administration official, can be expressed as a checklist: “balance, sustainability, restraint, precision, patience, fallibility, skepticism, and [American] exceptionalism.” This list, he argues, represents a distinctive and enduring legacy that historians will praise and that future presidents should heed. When it comes to assessing the administration’s foreign policy track record, Chollet’s verdict is more measured. He gives high marks to both phases of Obama’s approach to Russia (the “reset” and “the bear roars back”) and lauds the Iran nuclear agreement. Other initiatives, including the outreach to Muslim publics, the 2011 Libyan intervention, and the so-called pivot to Asia, get mixed reviews. (There is one reader who is certain to enjoy The Long Game: Hillary Clinton, for whom Chollet has nothing but praise in her role as secretary of state.) Chollet’s approach is both provocative and intriguing: the fact that Obama’s strategy consists of a list of desirables rather than a hierarchy of goals is one of the main charges made by the president’s critics. But for Chollet, as for Obama, this apparent defect is actually a strength, and the current world disorder is less the result of flawed U.S. strategies than the birth pangs of a new and better order. Time will tell.