Obama’s Attitude Toward Treaties: Probably About Right


Dan Drezner isn’t happy that the Obama administration hasn’t put much effort into winning passage of international treaties:

Politics is art as well as science, and there’s something just a little bit chickens**t about the Obama White House’s tactics. Politics isn’t only about winning — sometimes it’s just about making the effort. And the truth of the matter is that when it comes to dealing with Congress, this administration hasn’t made the effort. By my recollection, during its entire first term, the only international relations piece of legislation that got the full court Obama White House press was the New START treaty with Russia. Now given what was going on with the economy, one could argue that the administration had the right set of priorities. But one way to help jumpstart the global economy would be a series of potentially significant foreign economic policy moves — including the ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, by the way.

….I hope that in its second term, the White House cares enough about foreign policy to actually engage Congress rather than throw up their hands and say, “crazy Republicans, what can you do?” Actually, President Obama, you could do one whole hell of a lot if you made an effort.

I’d probably take the other side of this argument. Dan’s core reason for Obama to prioritize this stuff is that it might “jumpstart the global economy,” but he slid by that assertion a bit too quickly for my taste. My guess is exactly the opposite: Obama could be the biggest treaty dynamo in the history of the Republic, and even if he succeeded the impact on the global economy would be barely measurable. In any case, I’d sure like to hear the counterargument.

Unfortunately, I suspect that Obama is right: foreign treaties just aren’t all that important, and expending political capital on them doesn’t make much sense. Republicans are crazy, and even the impact of the Law of the Sea Convention—which is certainly far greater than the disabilities treaty would have been—isn’t enormous. Something like the Doha Round would probably have a significant effect if we could make progress on it, but that goes way beyond needing a bit more schmoozing from Obama.

Bottom line: I sympathize, but I suspect that Obama’s priorities are about right. New START was important. Basel III was important. Keeping the NATO coalition together over Afghanistan was important. Dealing sensibly with Asia—which he has—was important. But trying to persuade the Michele Bachmann wing of the Republican Party to pass a few more treaties? It’s hard to see a big payoff there.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.