Ezra Klein reads Roger Cohen’s interview/column with Barack Obama and hears shades of John Ikenberry in Obama’s thought. Due to the nature of the format it’s a little hard for me to know exactly what Obama was trying to say, since it’s impossible to see what Cohen was asking. But there really are some resonances with Ikenberry’s concept of “strategic restraint.” If you don’t want to slog through After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars, you might want to check out something shorter like Ikenberry’s brief rejoinder to Barry Posen in The National Interest or his Democracy article on the “Security Trap”.
The basic point of all of this is that it won’t really do for the United States to simply “do less” in the world. But as we’ve seen during the Bush years, the manic pursuit of “doing more” not only carries enormous costs, it actually fails to do any of the things it was supposed to do. The reason is that as we claim a wider-and-wider scope for unilateral action, efficacious American power becomes more and more threatening to more and more people. What’s needed is a way to make American power something a critical mass of foreigners can welcome, and that means strategic restraint — especially in the form of institutions that can become foci for international cooperation.
UPDATE: PS, Ezra’s blog has a new URL as an official TAP Online product.