Barack Von Metternich: Obama's Foreign Policy Makes Him the Surprising Heir to a Certain Austrian Prince

By De Las Casas, Gustavo | Foreign Policy, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Barack Von Metternich: Obama's Foreign Policy Makes Him the Surprising Heir to a Certain Austrian Prince


De Las Casas, Gustavo, Foreign Policy


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To some, Barack Obama might seem like a modern-day JFK, FDR, or Lincoln. But when it comes to foreign policy, his roots go a little further back: to Prince Klemens yon Metternich, foreign minister of the Austrian Empire from 1809 to 1848 and the patron saint of multilateralism. Sure, Obama is a liberal democrat while Metternich's autocratic tendencies helped spark the revolution of 1848. But Obama's cosmopolitan approach to diplomacy and his constant invocation of "common interests" when dealing with governments from Caracas to Moscow to Tehran are vintage Metternich. This diplomatic impulse--derived in both cases from a personal taste for legalistic moderation--is admirable, but problematic, and Metternich's own successes and failures reveal why.

The prince's greatest triumph was the Concert of Europe, a loose alliance of the leading powers at the time: Austria, Britain, Prussia, and Russia (and later France). An earlier incarnation of today's U.N. Security Council, the group held brief congresses whenever a crisis threatened the continent's stability. Throughout, Metternich's influence loomed large. He rejected unabashed power politics, endorsed the idea of an international community with collective solutions, and persuaded liberal states such as Britain to cooperate with their autocratic counterparts.

Like his 19th-century predecessor, Obama has had early success in building coalitions, as at the London G-20 summit in April when he encouraged a modern-day Concert to pledge $1.1 trillion toward stabilizing the economic crisis and helping out poorer countries. …

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