Logic Lessons from The Economist

by Michael Auslin

It must sound better with a British accent, but The Economist once again strives mightily to ignore its own logic, this time in a “briefing” on American foreign policy in the January 19 issue. In urging Barack Obama to “show greater resolve,” the newspaper (as it calls itself) kicks off with the following paragraph:

There is much to like about the foreign policies pursued by President Barack Obama during his first years in office. Rational and reasonable, they have blended strategic optimism with tactical caution, and tempered grand visions with a careful weighing of costs. Only one flaw has betrayed Mr. Obama’s thoughtful plans. Time and again, they have not really worked.

One assumes the tone is meant to be sophisticatedly self-deprecating, but it also seeks to underscore the essential rightness of Obama’s approach. Thus, the rest of the three-page briefing calls for a deeper U.S. re-engagement with the world, precisely along the same lines of the failed policies of Obama’s first term. It lauds the goals of the president while regretting that others have not seen the wisdom of his approach.

The logical disconnect is striking: instead of reexamining whether Obama’s policies are realistic, appropriate, or right, the magazine ignores the very evidence it lays forth, and pronounces them still valid. In short there’s nothing wrong with Obama’s world view, his analysis of global conditions, his aims, or his efforts. Why, then, was the first term such a failure (on issues such as Iran, China, North Korea, Russia, Syria, etc.)? It’s hard to pin The Economist correspondent down on this, but it seems to be that the president did not invest enough of his personal energy in the issues, was too cautious, or maybe spent his first term “laying the groundwork.” And, we are reminded almost as an afterthought, the objects of the president’s attention flatly reject his approach. Of course, that can leave only one solution, according to The Economist: more of the same. 

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