Zakaria’s interview with Obama a missed opportunity
Fareed Zakaria’s interview with President Obama on Obama’s foreign policy is a missed opportunity. Zakaria enjoyed exceptional access to President Obama, but chose to present the gauzy survey that the White House communications office might have served up (perhaps those two facts are linked?). Zakaria is certainly smart and knowledgeable enough to probe more deeply, ...
Fareed Zakaria’s interview with President Obama on Obama’s foreign policy is a missed opportunity. Zakaria enjoyed exceptional access to President Obama, but chose to present the gauzy survey that the White House communications office might have served up (perhaps those two facts are linked?). Zakaria is certainly smart and knowledgeable enough to probe more deeply, but he didn’t, or if he did, he didn’t include it in the interview, and those deeper insights didn’t make it into his own summary analysis of the interview either.
That is a pity, because I think Zakaria is a better critic of American foreign policy than he showed this time. Here are just a few questions that a more trenchant interview might have pressed the president on:
- You campaigned on the claim that climate change was a national security threat of the highest rank, as important a national security interest as dealing with the threats posed by terrorists and WMD proliferation. Yet, you have not governed that way. Yes, Congress opposed your cap-and-trade program, but they also didn’t want Obamacare yet you rammed that through. Why couldn’t you accomplish your grand strategy shift on climate change?
- You campaigned on an unrelenting critique of your predecessor’s policies, yet you have kept so many of them in place. Moreover, where you have enjoyed the greatest success, say the killing of Bin Laden, it is through following techniques, tactics, and procedures developed by your predecessor. And where you have enjoyed the least success, say in Israel-Palestine, it has come after making abrupt changes. Do you think it is time now to refine your critique?
- Governor Romney has offered a fairly nuanced critique of your Iran policy, particularly focusing on missed opportunities during the post-election turmoil in June 2009 and then again with the September 2009 revelations of the secret uranium enrichment program. Looking back on that year, do you agree with Romney that you missed some opportunities?
- Increasingly, our allies are expressing great discomfort with your heavy reliance on drone strikes. If you get a second term, do you think you will be obliged to scale back that program or brace yourself for significantly greater friction with our allies?
- What happened to your idea of a G-2, a condominium of global cooperative problem solving between the United States and China?
- You say you pride yourself on good personal relations with other leaders and that this has contributed to success in foreign policy. How extensive was your outreach to Prime Minister Maliki and how effective was that in negotiating the follow-on agreement that your administration was seeking?
You have launched the transpacific trade accord initiative, but you have done so after three years of letting ready-to-go trade agreements languish and after opposing the renewed grant of fast track authority that all of your predecessors deemed essential for a credible trade promotion strategy. Why should our Asian partners view your proposal as a credible without it?
One could easily generate dozens more, and Zakaria could doubtless come up with a few that I haven’t considered. The one time that he actually did press the president (albeit gently) on Simpson-Bowles, he elicited a bit more candor (and defensiveness) from his interview subject.
Perhaps it was the Oval Office effect. I know how the setting can intimidate even someone as self-assured and cosmopolitan as Zakaria. Perhaps, given my own turn at the mound, I would pitch softballs, too. But I would like to think that a seasoned pro would deliver a few fastballs, and maybe even a brush back pitch or two.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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