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The USA, power and international order: Foreign policy under Obama

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As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals … Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake … we are ready to lead once more. … We will not apologise for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence …

(Obama inauguration speech, January 2009)

The inauguration of President Obama signalled the opening of a new chapter in American foreign policy and in the USA’s relations with other states. The invasion of Iraq, flouting of international conventions on torture, treatment of prisoners of war and opposition to a range of international treaties – legacies of the Bush administration – all seemed to show an America acting apart. But whether America, possessing unrivalled military advantages but waning economic power, would be able to fashion a renewed global leadership is much less clear. Even less obvious is what kind of power America would be in a changing international system.

In this unit we examine the future of US power in international order with an overview of some of the most important foreign policy challenges bequeathed by the Bush administration. We consider America’s long-term project to create a liberal international order and some of the tensions that underlie it, and then explore the idea that America has a unique place in the international system by looking at the idea of ‘Americanism’.

Having established some of these more general and conceptual ideas about American power in the international system, we assess America’s ability to lead the same system by studying US relations with other liberal powers and with the rising powers of China and Russia, and US policy with respect to the Middle East and West Asia.

This unit is an adapted extract from the course A world of whose making? (DU301) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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