May 12th, 2014
09:07 AM ET

Obama's minimalist approach to foreign policy

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

What the United States needs is a set of sophisticated strategies to shore up the existing global system but also keep the major powers invested in it.

With Ukraine, for example, it's vital that Obama rally the world against Russia's violation of borders and norms. And yet, the only long-term solution to Ukraine has to involve Russia. Without Moscow's buy-in, Ukraine cannot be stable and successful. But Obama's strategy of putting pressure on Moscow, using targeted sanctions, and rallying support in Europe is the right one – it might even be showing some signs of paying off.

Similarly with China, the challenge is to provide the assurances that other Asian countries want, but to make sure that the pivot does not turn into a containment strategy against China, which is now the world's second-largest economic and military power. That would make for a Cold War in Asia that no Asian country wants and would not serve American interests either.

Obama's restraint has served him well in avoiding errors. But it has also produced a strangely minimalist approach to his constructive foreign policy agenda. From the Asia pivot to the Russian sanctions to new trade deals, the administration has offered an ambitious and important agenda, but the president approaches it cautiously, as if his heart is not in it and he is being pulled along by events rather than leading them.​

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column


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