There are many in-depth books dealing with individual aspects of U.S. foreign policy in recent years, but for a single work encompassing the Obama administration’s engagement with the world, it is hard to imagine one better. From the Arab Spring to the resurgence of Russia to the Iran nuclear deal, Landler reveals a president obsessed with making history, and a secretary of state weighing every move in light of her personal advancement. Really, “Alter Egos” could just be called “Egos.”Obama's disastrous legacy in foreign policy has grown more and more clear as we have neared the end of his presidency. It's easy to see why. If one's motivating foreign policy principle is self-aggrandizement, everything else is to be sacrificed so that you can have a complimentary footnote in the books to be written after you die.
The president liked running foreign policy out of the West Wing, Landler explains, and “Clinton had trouble penetrating Obama’s clannish inner circle.” That inner circle was devoted to finding symbolic, legacy-building opportunities for the boss. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy whisperer, regarded outreach to closed societies such as Cuba as “exactly what a history-making president like Obama should be doing,” Landler writes, and threw himself into secret negotiations with Havana. Obama saw the Iran nuclear agreement as a once-in-a-generation achievement and pursued it accordingly. And he fretted that historians would remember him for the wrong thing. “I don’t want to be just remembered as the drone president,” he said to a top adviser in 2012.
The irony is that, in fact, history will remember Obama as the president who unraveled the world and left it on fire. And the drone president, of course.