The Problem Neither Obama Nor Bush Could Solve

The Problem Neither Obama Nor Bush Could Solve

The Obama era's troubles go far beyond the Oval Office.

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL campaign is turning into a mirror of the 2008 race. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton seeks to distinguish herself from the policies of the sitting chief executive, while sundry Republican candidates maintain that Obama’s incompetence has made America less safe and diminished its position in the world. No one seeking to become Barack Obama’s successor is promising to continue his approach in foreign policy, just as, in 2008, no one ran on a platform of adopting the policies of the George W. Bush administration.

As much as Democratic partisans may resent the comparison, President Obama, entering the final stage of his second term, seems to be presiding over a foreign-affairs trajectory similar to the final years of the Bush administration. Obama’s tenure has been defined by a deterioration of the U.S. position in the international order; growing anti-American sentiment as reflected in public-opinion surveys around the globe; an increased willingness of rising and resurgent powers to challenge American presence abroad; and difficulty in assuring friends that Congress will honor the key agreements the President conducts with foreign leaders. These difficulties are fomenting profound unease among the American electorate about its future safety and prosperity. According to Republican foreign-policy practitioners, the Obama administration will leave office in a year’s time stymied by the same obstacles that bedeviled his predecessor’s administration: the inability to understand Russia’s position in a post–Cold War world without alienating American allies and the struggle to set Afghanistan and Iraq on sustainable paths to peace and stability. The challenges in those areas endanger in turn a third U.S. goal—pivoting towards East Asia. Democrats today no longer enjoy any advantage over Republicans in terms of competence in foreign policy or national security. The final quarter of the Obama presidency has eroded any of the gains made by Democrats over the past ten years in that area. This is quite an unexpected reversal of fortune.


BARACK OBAMA was inaugurated in January 2009 amid general optimism that his administration would repair the damage done to U.S. foreign policy during the tenure of George W. Bush in the White House. The expectation was that Obama would remove the United States from entanglements in the Middle East and heal tensions with Russia. Under Obama’s leadership, Democrats were eager to demonstrate their superior skill in handling the nation’s security. Unlike their Republican predecessors, they knew how to use military force more effectively, build more lasting and comprehensive international coalitions (especially with the trans-Atlantic allies), and produce tangible results. By Obama’s second term, the European Union would become a major contributor to global security, relations with Russia would stabilize, the first seedlings of democracy would take root in Middle East and the grand rebalance to the Asia-Pacific would be within reach.

This ambitious plan was codified in the 2011 Defense Strategic Guidance, which was supposed to steer U.S. defense spending for the remainder of Obama’s tenure in office. Five years later, however, these expectations are not aligning with reality. Hopes that Washington could usher the Arab Spring into a glorious summer of democracy have been replaced by the pessimism of an Arab Winter, with states collapsing and extremism on the rise. The Obama administration is preparing to leave office with the Iran nuclear issue essentially frozen for a decade—they were potentially successful in preventing a short-term Iranian dash to weapons capability, but they have left larger concerns about Iran’s intentions unresolved. Russia’s resurgence and its unwillingness to accept the post–Cold War settlement in Europe, together with the European Union’s own ongoing internal travails, have dashed hopes that Europe could become a security provider to augment U.S. efforts elsewhere. A rising China seems prepared to test American commitments in Asia as it seeks to redefine a regional order that the United States has underwritten for many decades. The fate of landmark trade deals that would put the United States at the center of both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific economic areas remains in doubt. Polling data collected at the end of 2015 suggests that Americans feel more unsafe and believe that the Obama administration’s policies are not sufficient to ensure the safety and security of the United States in what they see as an increasingly dangerous and chaotic world.


WHY HAS THIS happened? Why has the Obama administration, like its predecessor, been unable to set America on the road to a durable, enduring, bipartisan foreign-policy consensus that can guide the United States towards success in the world of the twenty-first century? Why is every candidate hoping to succeed Obama in the White House finding fault with how he has conducted foreign affairs?

The president’s supporters maintain that an intransigent international and congressional leadership is to blame. Abroad, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Xi Jinping and others are responsible for the failure of U.S. policies; at home, Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are the ones who should be held responsible for deficiencies in U.S. policy, having stood in the way of the president’s agenda. Detractors—not only Republicans in opposition but also some Democrats looking to create some distance between Obama’s legacy and the Democratic Party’s “brand” in national security—focus the blame squarely on the president. According to an unnamed former White House official in a Michael Crowley essay in Politico last October, U.S. national-security policy “is driven by one man, and one man only, and it is Barack Obama.”

It is true that any president does much to define his administration’s foreign-policy priorities and processes, and former secretary of defense Robert Gates’ December 2015 op-ed in the Washington Post lays out the personal characteristics that a chief executive must possess to be successful in governing effectively. While personal characteristics are important, it feeds into an American tendency to see mistakes in U.S. national-security policy not as a sum of errors endemic to a complex system, but as the fault of a particular presidential administration or even a particular president. This popular but mistaken view holds that the setbacks experienced in American foreign policy are the results of errors in programming and execution made by a national-security team. This avoids the more rigorous question: are those errors instead attributable to fundamental flaws in America’s perception of the world and its own place in it?

Indeed, the roots of Obama-era dysfunction precede his election by at least a decade, before Obama was even a national figure; they arise from the still-unhealed 2002 Democratic schism over the impending war in Iraq. Beyond that, the problems experienced during the Obama years reflect an increasing sclerosis in the U.S. policy process itself that has made it far more difficult for Washington to implement effective policy. If nothing is done, this dysfunction is likely to continue into the next administration, regardless of party.


LIKE SENATOR Obama, Governor George W. Bush played down any Wilsonian beliefs he may have held during his 2000 presidential campaign in favor of running as a pragmatist with a more realistic and restrained approach to American foreign policy. Bush contrasted his rhetoric with the triumphalist Clinton administration’s assertion that the United States was the world’s “indispensable nation,” but the events of 9/11 changed all of that. In responding to the September 11 attacks, Bush was faced with a choice: to frame the forthcoming campaign as a limited, antiterrorist operation, or to fall for the siren song that an opportunity had arisen to reshape the Middle Eastern and global orders by harnessing American power in the service of American ideals. By choosing this more expansive option, the Bush administration—along with many Democrats—fell into the trap that this vast endeavor could be executed on the cheap, without much sacrifice or expenditure. The source of the hubris that defined the initial plans for the war in Iraq was an oversimplified belief that an operation could both oust Saddam Hussein and put the country on the path to a sustainable democracy by Christmas 2003 with minimal U.S. forces, with Iraq footing the bill from its oil revenue.

While only a few House Republicans (and some prominent members of the Republican corps of grey eminences) spoke out against the proposed invasion as a costly and reckless gamble, Democrats were much more divided. The traditional anti-interventionist left opposed attacking Iraq, but the centrist core had no particular ideological objections to intervention per se. When the tally of the vote in Congress was taken in 2002 on whether to give President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq, the schism among Democrats was in full display: 39 percent of House Democrats and 58 percent of Democrats in the Senate—among them the party’s presumptive future presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton—voted in favor of invading Iraq.

This initial bipartisanship, solidified by Baghdad’s rapid fall, crumbled as the war dragged on and public support waned. Yet the Democratic Party could not reconcile whether the idea of intervention itself was a bad thing—or whether Hussein’s removal could have been better orchestrated by Democrats (who might have been able to get a United Nations resolution, secure meaningful support from allies or otherwise run the occupation more effectively). The seesawing between these two positions led to the memorable moment in the 2004 campaign when Senator John Kerry tried to explain how he could simultaneously be for and against the Iraqi operation.

Kerry’s flip-flopping message hurt his bid for the Oval Office and cost Democrats the House. As the Democrats geared up for the 2006 midterms, grassroots antiwar activists highlighted the fact that highly visible mainstream Democrats had been prowar. It was clear that the party’s chances for future electoral success would be greatly diminished if an internecine conflict between interventionists and noninterventionists continued. Rather than settle the question of what Democrats were for, it was easier to form a coalition of voters and candidates who agreed that President Bush was the problem. Focusing on Bush’s blunders worked for both the anti-interventionist and pacifist wings, but it also covered those Democrats who argued that if they had been in charge, they could have made intervention work.

This strategy allowed the Democrats to have a caucus that encompassed the two Independent outliers—Senators Bernie Sanders and Joseph Lieberman. Democratic opponents of missile defense could join with supporters who disagreed with specifics of Bush’s plans for implementation. Democrats who felt that John Mearsheimer and Stephen F. Cohen’s reading—that the West provoked Russia by supporting NATO expansion—was right could embrace the Democrats who argued that Bush was too trusting of Putin. On a whole set of issues—from how to cope with Iran’s nuclear program, whether to pursue free-trade agreements, whether to rapidly withdraw from Iraq, the best way to deal with a rising China—Democrats who could not find a common unifying approach could still unify to oppose the Bush administration’s policies. As an electoral strategy, it worked, delivering control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. But a “not Bush” approach could not provide a template for an alternative set of workable foreign policies.


OBAMA, ON THE other hand, opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, while supporting the military actions taken to degrade and destroy Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Unlike other candidates who were still attempting to “Kerry straddle” when it came to the Iraq war, Obama voiced his opposition clearly and with conviction. Similar to Governor Bush in 2000, Senator Obama laid out a restrained, focused foreign-policy vision, most notably in his 2007 address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, but it was not yet clear how committed the senator was when it came to implementing this vision were he to be elected, just as Governor Bush’s humble restraint disappeared shortly after he became president. It was also uncertain whether Obama’s campaign staff wanted him to develop a binding foreign-policy approach beyond citing differences with Hillary Clinton and President Bush to mobilize his base of supporters. Indeed, Obama himself acknowledged that he was a “political Rorschach test”—with different groups of voters projecting their policy expectations onto him. He could, based on his audience, reflect the ideas of a noninterventionist, a pragmatic realist or a Wilsonian idealist. This impression was reinforced by his staffing choices. Obama selected a foreign-policy team that was drawn from a variety of different foreign-policy perspectives, yet the palpable relief that the new president was “not Bush”—and the anticipation of renewal created by the announcement of policy reviews and fresh starts in relationships with America’s European allies, the Middle East, Russia and the states of the Asia-Pacific—allowed the Obama administration to enjoy a domestic and international honeymoon that culminated in a Nobel Peace Prize.

If Obama was ever committed to any sort of progressive-realist vision he did not use those principles to guide the selection of his national-security team. His “team of rivals” was only united in their determination to walk the United States back from what they agreed had been the principal mistakes of the Bush administration (at least until 2006); they, in turn, had to filter their policy recommendations through a group of campaign operatives brought into the White House whose guiding star was preserving the president’s poll numbers, reelection chances and overall legacy. There would be, under their watch, no new Iraq-level commitments to distract from a domestic agenda and destroy the president’s credibility.

The campaign trail—where Obama’s rhetorical gifts and his skills as an orator were crucial in winning both the primary and general elections—also colored the approach to foreign policy. Obama’s close advisers from the campaign had an inordinate faith that the power of Obama’s speeches would bring about major changes. Inspired by the president’s soaring rhetoric, other governments would voluntarily comply with American preferences. Because Obama was “not Bush,” NATO allies would be prepared to increase their contributions to the war in Afghanistan and to defense spending to secure the European continent; Iran would come to the table to settle the nuclear dispute, the Kremlin would reset relations with the United States and the Chinese would embrace an American vision for regional and global order. If the right words were said, policy would fall into place.


WHEN THIS strategy failed, however, problems arose, and the unresolved schism in Democratic foreign-policy thinking further complicated matters. Aside from the main speech, there was a disunity of voices. For instance, Chinese leaders wondered whether the secretary of state’s criticisms of Chinese policy or the national-security adviser’s quiet reassurances reflected the real position of the United States. The vaunted “reset” with Russia disappointed the Kremlin when the substance of many U.S. policies did not change, but it also aggravated America’s Central European partners’ concerns about the strength of the U.S. commitment to their security and well-being.

The debate on whether to increase military presence in Afghanistan exemplified this problem. The president approved what appeared to be a satisfying compromise between two coalitions. Eschewing the limited mission-set focus on counterterrorism advised by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama embarked instead on a broader set of transformative objectives in Afghanistan and increased U.S. troop commitments and expenditures to satisfy those in his administration who maintained that under Democratic stewardship a major exercise of U.S. power could produce effective results. At the same time, the compromise incorporated the concerns of the political team, which did not want the Obama administration involved in a long, drawn-out escalation in the Middle East, so strict limits on the number of troops and time allotted for the mission were established. The result was a compromise that satisfied no one. For the advocates of intervention, the surge was halfhearted—not enough forces, resources or time to undertake a major transformation of Afghanistan. For those who wanted to refocus the mission on more limited, achievable aims, the surge would end up being an eighteen-month-long waste of resources and energy with no lasting results.

Similarly, the announcement that relations with Russia would be reset did not produce an internal consensus within the administration over what the United States was to do to make it happen. The main reason that U.S.-Russia relations soured in the second term of the Bush administration was because of the United States’ inability to reconcile the expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions into the former Soviet space—viewed, rightly or wrongly, by the Kremlin as a threat to Russian interests—with the previously stated objective to maintain a partnership with Russia. One of the Obama administration’s early actions—the cancellation of the land deployment of components of a theater ballistic-missile-defense system vehemently opposed by Russia in September 2009—was denounced by both Republicans and Central European leaders as Kremlin appeasement. But the subsequent announcement that a sea-based system remained on track infuriated Moscow, who saw this as the old system in a new configuration. The U.S.-Russia reset could only gain momentum once elections in Ukraine and Georgia—the key flash points in U.S.-Russia relations during the Bush administration—brought new, more pragmatic governments to power. Indeed, the lack of any substantial resolution of these festering issues was made all too clear when the Maidan movement swept the Ukrainian regime of Viktor Yanukovych from power in spring 2014—empowering a new pro-Western government and immediately returning Ukraine to the geopolitical chessboard.


THROUGHOUT OBAMA’S first term, the administration attempted to balance its interventionist, idealistic voices with a more pragmatic approach rooted both in the limits of American power and a deep concern on the part of the political advisors to avoid any foreign-policy ventures that might drag the Obama administration into new quagmires and distract from its domestic agenda. The Arab Spring, however, upset this balancing act. As authoritarian governments began to fall all across the Middle East, it seemed that a Democratic administration was being presented with its own version of the annus mirabilis of 1989 and the rapid collapse of the Soviet bloc. Obama would do for the Middle East what George Bush the elder had done twenty years earlier in Eastern Europe: preside over the collapse of authoritarianism and the triumph of democracy across a critical region of the world. The voices of those within the Obama administration warning about the need for measured transitions could not resist the same siren song that had so captivated the younger Bush administration—the prospect of U.S. power aiding and abetting a sweeping, massive transformation in the Middle East, with the hopes that this time, it would be under Democratic administration. President Obama would succeed where Bush and his Republicans had failed. Nowhere was this more apparent than the decision to intervene in Libya. In places like Bahrain and Azerbaijan, security concerns had led the United States to side with existing authoritarian governments even when faced with popular pressure for democratization. But once Muammar el-Qaddafi, the last remaining poster child for bloody tyrants in the Arab world, issued his bombastic threats to wipe out the civilians in Benghazi who had facilitated rebellion against his rule, it seemed an appropriate time to unleash American power against him.

The form which the Libyan intervention took was guided by the lessons which the interventionists and the political advisors had drawn from the Iraq War. For the liberal hawks, Libya was the “right” way for the United States to intervene: a Democratic administration had received the proper authorizations from the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council; had assembled a real coalition of NATO allies and Arab partners (although the United States ended up absorbing more than 75 percent of the costs); and deposed an Arab tyrant with the aid of a provisional government that espoused democratic ideals. For the political advisers, the near-absolute ban on the deployment of any U.S. ground forces (other than a handful of special operatives) avoided the possibility of the United States being sucked into a new land war in the Middle East. U.S. air power was deemed sufficient to achieve U.S. objectives. Libya seemed to herald the emergence of a new form of low-cost, no (U.S.) casualty intervention which would avoid the mistakes of the Iraq war.

Qaddafi’s fall seemed occur to at a fraction of the cost of Hussein’s, but the former’s removal produced shock waves that proved damaging to U.S. interests. Unlike Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi had renounced terrorism and his weapons of mass destruction program and was generally cooperating with the West on security matters. At the same time, his claims that Islamist extremists were behind the rebellion were not entirely self-serving—there was a genuine radical presence in the eastern part of the country that was empowered as a result of Qaddafi’s removal. While a moderate opposition was the face of the new Libya on the surface, the real power rested in the hands of Islamist fighters and clan militias that were uninterested in any commitment to liberal values or democratic governance. Yet the principal lesson from Iraq—that the fall of an authoritarian regime creates a vacuum defined by disorder and instability unless “boots on the ground” were present in sufficient numbers to guarantee order—was downplayed in Libya, in part to avoid pressures to send U.S. and NATO forces to secure the peace. Thus, the desire to vindicate Democratic interventionism combined with a fear of Iraq-style quagmires produced the worst kind of compromise: a mismatch between grandiose goals and limited resources. The Libyan intervention was neither reduced to a more small-scale operation nor expanded when it became clear that a strategy of “leading from behind” would not produce a successful outcome. Moreover, as Libya began to unravel, it became apparent that the operation did not inspire fear in the hearts of U.S. enemies, testify to American power, revitalize NATO or encourage our partners to spend more on defense. Despite the rhetoric about an Asian pivot, both China and U.S. allies in the region concluded that the United States could still be easily distracted in the Middle East. Washington’s handling of the fate of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in addition to the Libyan operation sent mixed signals to our allies about whether the United States truly “had their back” and accelerated efforts to hedge against U.S. unreliability. Partners and competitors alike concluded that the United States was trying to find a way to take bold action in the service of ambitious goals but was not willing to pay the costs or take the risks to do so. Additionally, the manner in which Qaddafi was deposed ended once and for all any hope that a Libya-style denuclearization deal would ever be embraced by Iran or North Korea: the only agreement that Iran would eventually contemplate signing would be one that legitimized its continued possession of the building blocks of a nuclear program, not the complete dismantling that the Obama administration had claimed in 2009 was its nonnegotiable goal.

The Libyan intervention also soured relations with both Beijing and Moscow. UN Security Council resolution 1973 was ratified as a way to create safe havens for civilians to find refuge from the fighting—a condition Russia and China were prepared to accept in order not to veto its passage in the Security Council. Almost immediately, the Western-led intervention focused not on ending a threat to civilians but entering the Libyan conflict as cobelligerents on the side of the opposition. Eventually, U.S. and NATO airpower overwhelmed Qaddafi’s military—and the Libyan despot ended up being captured and executed by rebel forces. Russia and China, concluding that they were fooled by the Obama administration, have subsequently resisted U.S. efforts to push for humanitarian action in other conflicts, notably in Syria, where the opposition has concluded that if the United States had intervened in Libya to stop a planned massacre in Benghazi, it would take action against the much more tangible crimes of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Syrian crisis has thus festered for more than four years. Combined with the effective collapse of Libya as a state, spurring a migration crisis which has seriously destabilized the European Union and allowed for militants to find a base from which to spread their influence through Africa, the Libyan and Syrian wars have facilitated the rise of the Islamic State as a new and more potent replacement for Al Qaeda, one that is also developing a reach capable of striking targets in the West, including the U.S. homeland. The same warnings that Brent Scowcroft sounded in 2002 prior to the start of the Iraq war were also voiced in the run-up to the Libya intervention, and dismissed by a Democratic administration almost as quickly. Libya today is no more a model of successful intervention in 2016 than Iraq was in 2007, with the one saving grace that the United States is not expending large amounts of blood and treasure.


THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION has settled into a pattern of delaying tough choices for as long as possible, and then being not fully on board with owning the results. For instance, a national-security goal is for America to enjoy energy independence by decreasing dependence on the Middle East, and offering an alternative to Russian sources of energy supply to our European allies. An ambitious and expensive program of alternative options (such as biofuels) would be unable to achieve this on its own—but tapping further sources of hydrocarbons in North America might.

Yet there has been sustained opposition on environmental grounds to expanding production and development of unconventional sources, as well as constructing the necessary infrastructure to bring them on the market. The Obama administration delayed making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline for years for fear of alienating different domestic constituencies, but was also unwilling to make the case that prioritizing environment and climate concerns trumped national-security concerns about global energy markets. The result has been that other countries that choose to be proactive can drive results. A Saudi Arabian decision to increase its oil supply to the international market, followed by a Russian one not to cut supplies, lowered energy prices to levels that made the cost of North American projects like the Keystone XL pipeline prohibitively high. Yet the long-term strategic questions remain unresolved: the United States and its allies are once again becoming addicted to cheap foreign oil, which can kill off alternative-energy programs—and makes it much harder to achieve another announced strategic goal of being able to rebalance from the Middle East at any point in the near future.

The current crop of candidates vying to succeed Obama have all offered variants of the same message: that a change in the occupant of the Oval Office will produce vastly different (and more preferable) outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. If Hillary Clinton succeeds in her quest, she is unlikely to embrace the team-of-rivals approach to governance and seems much more committed to following a more hawkish, liberal-interventionist line. All of the Republican challengers also signal that they would be “different” than Obama. Yet Clinton or any of the Republicans will find it extremely hard to break out of the morass Obama finds himself in. Here’s why.


THE CANDIDATES have criticized the Obama administration’s responses to the crises in Ukraine and Syria and to the growing threat of the Islamic State. Yet a closer examination of the accusations does not reveal fundamentally different approaches. Instead, they indicate that a different president would somehow be more effective in carrying out existing policies. For instance, across the spectrum, different politicians continue to express the opinion that the solution to the chaos in Libya and Syria is to find that illusive species of local moderates prepared to fight against extremist forces and establish liberal-leaning, pro-American regimes to obviate the need for a large deployment of U.S. ground forces. The red lines that political advisers that surround the current president and also his potential successors insist cannot be crossed for fear of triggering another Iraq are the same.

Obama has also received tremendous criticism—some of which is justified—for how he has handled Putin and the relationship with Russia. Yet a good deal of the Obama administration’s Russia policy has been shaped by self-imposed U.S. constraints. Beyond the standard trope of Russia as a nuclear superpower that cannot be subjected to much direct pressure, Americans want a policy of confronting Russia that limits the risks they will be asked to bear—for example, the requirement that economic sanctions imposed on Russia to punish it for the seizure of Crimea and its operations in Eastern Ukraine have minimal fallout for U.S. economic and business interests. Additionally, for the Iran nuclear deal to work, Russian cooperation is needed, and there is a growing desire for Moscow to better align its operations in Syria with American preferences—shifting most of its military strikes against Islamic State targets while using its influence to persuade al-Assad to step down. At the same time, while proposals to settle the Ukraine crisis by formally designating Ukraine as a neutral state is a nonviable option because the U.S. does not want to be seen as appeasing Moscow, it is also reluctant to spend the necessary resources to pull Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic orbit. One principal policy divergence between Obama and his potential successors is the question of providing aid to the Ukrainian military. Yet those who criticize Obama’s refusal to take a more aggressive stance on this issue still search for a way for the United States to supply weapons to Kiev to pressure Russia to reverse its course while being able to disavow U.S. responsibility for how those arms might be used by Kiev. Most of the 2016 candidates’ stance on Russia policy involves some variant of being “tougher” on Putin and showing “resolve,” but not showing much willingness to own the only two plausible policy options: a commitment to renewed and robust containment of Russia—requiring a much higher expenditure than anyone in the U.S. seems willing to pay, plus the risks of losing Russian cooperation on other issues—or a search for accommodation.

Such a loosely defined Ukraine policy represents in a microcosm what an October 2015 RAND report indicates is the prevailing problem for U.S. national-security policy today: the pronounced imbalance between resources and requirements. The United States must either be prepared to increase what it is willing to spend in terms of funds, personnel and attention, or it must be willing to scale back its ambitions and to redefine what it considers to be acceptable outcomes.

Currently, there is no sign that the American foreign-policy establishment is any readier to contemplate hard choices and entertain unpleasant tradeoffs in the coming years. The paradigm of low-cost, no-casualty intervention is a bipartisan construction that will endure with only minor modifications after 2017 in the absence of a truly existential threat to U.S. security. A new approach in 2016? Don’t believe a word of it.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a contributing editor at the National Interest and coauthor of U.S. Foreign Policy and Defense Strategy (Georgetown, 2015). The views expressed here are his own.

Image: The White House/Pete Souza