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USA: Obama’s Warren Buffett foreign policy - by Derel Chollet

In his August 1 column, “A US retreat that feeds on itself,” Fred Hiatt rehearsed many of the familiar critiques of US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, suggesting that if only the United States had kept substantial troops in Iraq, put forces into post-Gaddafi Libya, bombed Syria after it used chemical weapons and focused a little less on “nation-building at home,” the US — and the world — would be better off.

The idea that the US has retreated defies reality. Today the US is more engaged, in more places and in more ways, than it was eight years ago. In fact, on the issues that matter most — how and where the country uses military force, how it approaches its enemies and works with its partners, and how it should conceive of its power and exert its leadership — Obama’s mark will be enduring and largely positive. Instead of allowing the consensus for the America’s global leadership to fray, the president has worked to strengthen and sustain it.

That’s because Obama plays a “long game.” The defining element of his global strategy is that it reflects the totality of US interests — foreign and domestic — to project leadership in an era of finite resources and seemingly infinite demands.

Obama’s fundamental challenge has been to implement such a strategy within a debate that has become overwhelmed by manufactured drama and the illusion of silver bullet, black-and-white solutions. For too many critics, the answer is almost always for the US to do more of something and show “strength” by acting “tough,” though usually what that something is remains very vague. And doing more of everything is not a strategy.

Think of it this way: Obama has been like a foreign policy version of Warren Buffett, a proudly pragmatic value investor less concerned with appearances and the whims of the moment, focused instead on making solid investments with an eye to long-term success. The foreign policy debate, on the other hand, tends to be dominated by policy day traders — or flashy real estate developers — whose incentives are the opposite: achieving quick results by making a big splash, getting rewarded with instant judgments and reacting to every blip in the market.

Of course, today’s geopolitical turbulence feels like more than the usual market ups and downs. It is understandable that when looking out at the world, Americans are frustrated, pessimistic and scared. But think back to 2008, with the US economy shedding as many as 500,000 jobs a month and on the cusp of a second Great Depression, the US military was stretched to the breaking point through fighting two wars, and many parts of the world associated the US with militarism, Guantanamo Bay and torture. The picture looks very different today.

History reminds us that the question is not whether the world presents challenges but rather how the US is positioned to deal with them. Considering the extent of today’s global disorder, it is tempting to succumb to a narrative of grievance and fear — sharpening the divisions between “us” and “them,” building walls longer and higher, and lashing out at enemies with force. Or to think it better that, to reduce exposure to such geopolitical risk, the US should divest from its alliances. Despite all the talk of “strength,” what these impulses reflect is a core lack of confidence.

We cannot submit to such pessimism. As Obama’s presidency nears its end, the state of the world is indeed tumultuous and ever changing, but we have good reason to be confident. The United States’ global position is sound.

The US has restored a sense of strategic solvency. Countries look to it for guidance, ideas, support and protection.

It is again admired and inspiring, not just for what it can do abroad but also for its economic vitality and strong society at home. Or as Buffett — who last Monday spoke at a rally in support of Hillary Clinton for president — recently declared in his more folksy way, “The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

When it comes to being in a position to solve problems and give people an opportunity to improve their lives, the US is far better off than it was a decade ago. The question is whether it will continue to make the choices necessary to stay that way.

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