Obama’s Global Policy

Robert Hutchings and Frederick Kempe make the case over at Foreign Policy for what they call a Global Grand Bargain, an across the board approach whereby instead of trying to tackle individual problems one by one, Barack Obama tries to reach a global consensus on broad reform measures designed to clear the decks:

Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once advised, “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” Itis a way of bringing more politically relevant clout to bear andcreating opportunities for constructive trade-offs. Most of thechallenges we face are interconnected, and the only way for the newadministration to tackle them is as part of a coherent overallstrategy, a Global Grand Bargain.

This is the kind of proposal that will almost certainly get ridiculed and dismissed by serious foreign policy pundits, so needless to say, I find it very appealing. I’ve got some reservations about the trade-offs they suggest in the handy table on the second page of the article. I think the bargain with the Russians could be more ambitious on both sides of the table, for instance. And I think the Global Governance dossier should include a regional security component whereby in return for greater say in global institutions, the Middle Powers shoulder more of a responsibility towards regional peacekeeping and stability operations. Finally, they also call for a moratorium on construction of all fissile material producing facilities, and my understanding is that there’s a global shortage of nuclear fuel at the moment.

But the idea is a bold one, and plays into the political momentum that is Obama’s strongest asset right now. At the same time, it also puts that momentum in greater jeopardy, because it risks one monumental failure in the place of any number of possible outcomes on individual fronts. Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, is a master of parallel track management, whereby he jumps from one issue to another depending on which has the most political traction at any given time, guaranteeing that he’s always got at least one winner to take credit for.

It might be wiser, then, to isolate the three most urgent dossiers, which I’d identify as Global Governance, Global Warming and Global Development. (The Russia security dossier would probably be better handled in the context of a trilateral U.S.-EU-Russia track anyway.) That’s a pretty ambitious trifecta already. And by going global (ie. putting the U.S. foreign policy agenda at the heart of the world, and vice versa) he stakes out an enormous amount of political capital to be won if he successfully advances the agenda.