In August 2008, with Barack Obama the freshly minted Democratic nominee for president, I tried a thought experiment. Although I felt fairly confident that Obama would defeat Republican John McCain, I was also certain that his victory would not herald the much-anticipated transformation of U.S. foreign policy. So, in a fit of futurology, I pretended to look back at that pivotal election year from the vantage point of 2016. I tried to leapfrog over the overheated optimism of the moment, the swelling Obamamania, by looking backward from a dystopic future.
“The new administration did make a lot of changes in its first 100 days, and the sheer number and the sheer pace fooled everyone into thinking that change had indeed come to Washington,” I wrote in The Goldilocks Apocalypse. “It turns out, though, that apocalypse comes in many different forms. There are the dramatic effects of sword and fire and famine. And then there's the apocalypse of muddling through. That's what happens when you just carry on with the same old, same old and before you know it, poof, end of the world. It's an apocalypse that's neither too cold nor too hot, neither too hard nor too soft. It's the apocalypse of the middle, the Goldilocks apocalypse.”
This article on the dangers of a status-quo foreign policy came out roughly halfway through my tenure as co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. FPIF is a think tank without walls that brings together nearly a thousand analysts, activists, and academics who share a progressive critique of U.S. foreign policy. Our home, IPS, is a Washington-based institute that puts ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment. Both institutions aspire not only to speak truth to power, but to push power in the direction of truth. In service of these ambitions, I’ve written a column every week for more than five years called World Beat that has assessed the state of U.S. foreign policy and global affairs. In those first years, I surveyed the wreckage perpetrated by the George W. Bush administration. Then, after the election of Barack Obama, I chronicled the years of failed promise.