The Obama Presidency and US Foreign Policy: Where’s the Multilateralism?



Skidmore, David. (2011) The Obama Presidency and US Foreign Policy: Where’s the Multilateralism? doi: 10.1111/j.1528-3585.2011.00454.x
© 2011 International Studies Association

Expectations that the presidential transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama would produce a multilateralist turn in American foreign policy have thus far proven misplaced. This is largely because the strategic environment of the post-Cold War era places structural constraints on the ability of any US president, of whatever ideological leanings, to pursue a consistently multilateralist foreign policy. Internationally, the absence of a shared great power threat has undermined the institutional bargain between the United States and allied states, thus rendering the terms of multilateral cooperation more difficult to agree upon. At home, the end of the Cold War has undermined presidential authority and empowered veto players whose interests are threatened by multilateral commitments. Nevertheless, structure is not destiny. Understanding the sources of political constraint can suggest strategies for overcoming or bypassing such obstacles to multilateral engagement in US foreign policy. A president who wishes to exercise multilateral leadership abroad must seek to renegotiate the terms of US engagement with international institutions while fashioning a compelling rationale that mobilizes public support at home.