Michael Fullilove: Obama Needs an FDR-Like Foreign Policy Pivot

tags: Barack Obama, foreign policy, FDR, Asia, LA Times, diplomacy



Michael Fullilove is executive director of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, and author of "Rendezvous With Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America Into the War and Into the World."

President Obama's most important foreign policy initiative is his attempt to "pivot" away from the Middle East and toward Asia.

Yet in Asia, some are starting to wonder whether the pivot was last year's story. The new secretary of State, John F. Kerry, is rarely sighted in the region. The military elements of the rebalance are underwhelming. Some of the main proponents of the pivot have left government. And U.S. policymakers are still drawn to the Middle East like iron filings to a magnet.

One reason for the sluggishness of the shift is that it is remarkably difficult to pivot a country as large and diverse as the United States. Arguably, the last successful pivot took place from 1939 to 1941, between the outbreak of the European fighting and the U.S. entry into the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. During this period, America transformed itself from a nervous, isolationist, middle power into an outward-looking global leader.

When the Wehrmacht marched into Poland in September 1939, only 1 in 40 Americans believed the United States should declare war on Germany. Flanked by oceans to the east and west and unthreatening neighbors to the north and south, Americans were historically disposed to isolate themselves from conflict and strife abroad. Congress erected high tariff walls, banned commercial dealings with warring nations and starved the military of funds. GIs drilled with broomsticks rather than machine guns....



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