With the Trump administration debating whether to certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, this Roundtable on the tortuous path to its conclusion is timely. Our reviewers bring special expertise to the task. Robert Gallucci was the lead negotiator for the 1994 Agreed Framework that sought to end the North Korean nuclear weapons program and is a longtime student and practitioner of nonproliferation policy; Richard Nephew served in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, working on sanctions policies, and is cited in Parsi’s book; Gary Sick was on the Carter National Security Council staff and has continued to study Iran ever since; Mike Singh worked on Iran policy in the Bush administration. From their biographies, one can guess that they will not agree in their evaluations of Parsi’s history of the negotiations with Iran.
It is hard to think of anyone better qualified to write an early history of Barack Obama’s foreign policy than Derek Chollet. For over six years, Chollet served the Obama administration with distinction, in senior positions at the State Department, White House, and Defense Department. He is also an accomplished author who has written numerous well-regarded books on the history of American foreign policy. Chollet’s most recent book is The Long Game: How Barack Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World. It is a lively and insightful insider’s account that, in the time since its publication in 2016, has proven as controversial and thought-provoking as Obama’s statecraft itself.
How did this happen? Donald Trump—a real estate mogul with a television show and no political experience—is America’s forty-fifth president. “Those that did not foresee” his ascendancy “are going to find it hard to discipline themselves to a balanced projection of his forthcoming first term,” Jonathan Haslam declared in a recent ISSF/H-Diplo essay. I’m in that group; maybe you are too. Polls aside, no major newspaper or magazine endorsed Trump’s candidacy, and a big chunk of the Republican Party establishment actively resisted his nomination. The GOP’s previous standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, said Trump was a charlatan, and Speaker Paul Ryan kept the candidate at arm’s length throughout 2016. Neither George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush supported Trump, and President Barack Obama campaigned against the GOP nominee while enjoying an approval rate that hovered near 60%. Trump’s victory was unexpected because it was improbable.
Foreign Affairs recently featured a forum on “Obama’s World: Judging His Foreign Policy Record.” Gideon Rose, editor of the journal, started the discussion with an overall positive assessment of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy through August 1, 2015 and the agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The Islamic State (ISSIL) seized Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, in June 2014 and emerged as a serious threat in the Syrian civil war as well as in Iraq. As the title of the article, “What Obama Gets Right: Keep Calm and Carry the Liberal Order On,” indicates, Rose favorably emphasizes Obama’s “grasp of the big picture,” his perspective as an “ideological liberal with a conservative temperament,” and his determination to reverse the mistakes of the George W. Bush administration. The Bush Whitehouse, Rose suggests, made many mistakes in the first term, following policies that were “deeply flawed in both conception and execution” (2, 6). Rose concludes that Obama was “better at strategy than implementation” in his focus on preserving the core of the liberal world order by “downsizing the U.S. global role” and reducing the commitment of U.S. resources, particularly U.S. ground military forces, to peripheral areas (10, 7).