APL Colloquium

March 9, 2012

Colloquium Topic: Bending History?

 How well has Barack Obama carried out his duties as U.S. commander-in-chief, top diplomat, and grand strategist? He has been unable to change the climate of Washington, and economic difficulties have dominated the first two years of his presidency. But his larger success or failure will likely hinge as much on foreign policy. Bending History? illuminates the grand promise and the great contradictions of a president who has captured the attention and imagination of citizens around the world like few of his White House predecessors.

Conflicting caricatures of Obama miss the mark. The Right largely believes he is a naïve apologist trying to quash "American exceptionalism," or at best trying too hard to meet the demands of his Democratic Party. Conversely, while many on the Left still see him as a transformational political figure, the great antidote to George Bush's unilateralist militarism, others believe he is an accommodationist who lacks the nerve to end the excesses of Bush antiterror policies. Not surprisingly, Obama is substantially more complicated and nuanced than any of these images allows.

Bending History? argues that Obama thus far has, above all, been a foreign policy pragmatist, tackling one issue at a time in a thoughtful way. On balance he has been competent and solid, choosing reasonable policies (or least-worst options, at least) with an approach typified by thoroughness, reasonably good teamwork, and flexibility when needed.

Colloquium Speaker: Michael E. O’Hanlon

 Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. He is working on books on Afghanistan and the future of nuclear weapons policy, while contributing to Brookings’ Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan indices, at present.

O’Hanlon’s latest books are The Science of War (Princeton University Press, 2009) as well as Budgeting for Hard Power (Brookings, 2009). Soon to be published is a serious book-length appraisal of Obama's foreign policy, Bending History?: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy, co-authored with Martin Indyk and Kenneth Lieberthal.

O’Hanlon’s other recent books include Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security (with Kurt Campbell) and A War Like No Other, about the U.S.-China relationship and the Taiwan issue, with Richard Bush. His previous books include a multi-author volume, Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007 (Brookings, 2006); Defense Strategy for the Post-Saddam Era (Brookings, 2005); The Future of Arms Control (Brookings, 2005), co-authored with Michael Levi; and a related book, Neither Star Wars nor Sanctuary: Constraining the Military Uses of Space (Brookings, 2004). Together with Mike Mochizuki, he wrote Crisis on the Korean Peninsula (McGraw-Hill) in 2003; he also wrote Expanding Global Military Capacity for Humanitarian Intervention (Brookings) that same year.

O’Hanlon has written several hundred opeds in newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, and The Japan Times. He has also contributed to The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other papers. O’Hanlon has appeared on television or spoken on the radio about 2,000 times since September 11, 2001. He is also a commentator for Alhurra television.

O'Hanlon was an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office from 1989-1994. He also worked previously at the Institute for Defense Analyses. His Ph.D. from Princeton is in public and international affairs; his bachelor's and master's degrees, also from Princeton, are in the physical sciences. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo/Kinshasa (the former Zaire) from 1982-1984, where he taught college and high school physics in French.