When President Obama assumed office, he wanted to reverse what he perceived as President Bush’s overreach in foreign policy. He determined on withdrawal from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the risks of unraveling that we are witnessing today. Then his administration failed to offset retrenchment with a strategic initiative. In contrast, as America retreated from Vietnam, President Richard Nixon and his adviser Henry Kissinger seized the strategic initiative by opening relations with China and resetting the geopolitical chessboard to U.S. advantage.
Even cautious leaders, such as Mr. Obama, need to shape events rather than just react to them. The “prudent” George H.W. Bush steered a peaceful end to the Cold War and reversed Iraq’s aggression, while also laying foundations for the future through an enlarged North Atlantic Treaty Organization; by negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement; with global trade negotiations that created the World Trade Organization, Central America and Middle East peace processes; and by promoting the start of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
There are opportunities today to adapt the world to America’s benefit that do not involve U.S. military force.