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The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power Hardcover – June 14, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Mann is an experienced and judicious observer of both presidential policy making and the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment, and, as in the case of his earlier book, many of his initial judgments are likely to pass the test of time. —Michael Lind

About the Author

James Mann, a former Washington reporter, columnist, and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, is author in residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of many books on global affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (June 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In The Obamians, a somewhat wonky term used to describe the chief Obamian (Obama) and his Obamians (aides), James Mann attempts to discern, through his foreign policy, an Obama doctrine. While his domestic policy has been hampered by Democrat (Guantanamo) and Republican (Obamacare, nee Romneycare) alike, day-to-day foreign policy execution does not require congressional approval. Foreign policy then, unlike domestic, is a "clear test of his underlying ideas and choices."

Obama chose his inner circle among a small and informal network of people with no foreign policy experience to purposely cultivate an image of Washington outsiders. His appointment of Hillary Clinton, a pragmatic decision to remove her from the Senate where she could possibly form a coalition against him, required a revamping of this image, and thus was born the "team of rivals" phrase to give a "grand historical gloss to the uneasy merger of the Obama and Clinton teams." In contrast, Bush's aides, his "Vulcans" as the author calls them, all shared a common history, namely Vietnam.

Mann has a lot to say about Vietnam. He argues that Obama is the first president not, in some way, shaped by the war. This is true, and interesting, but he takes this argument to extremes. Obama's team is young and they "tend to believe their ideas are new and original, a response to events or trends of the twenty-first century" and not, as Mann repeatedly argues, in response to Vietnam. While the Obamians came of age in a world influenced by Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis, Mann believes Vietnam plays a seemingly unconscious influence through which all of their decisions filter.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This semi-sequel to Rise of the Vulcans attempts to do for the Obama foreign policy team what James Mann's earlier book did for the Bush II foreign policy team. As with the earlier book, The Obamians covers members of the Obama foreign policy team from the well known Secretary of Stats to less well known officials such as Ben Rhodes and Michael McFaul from the NSC staff. The early chapters are some of the most interesting as they explain how many of these individuals ended up working for President Obama. Mann's take on why Hillary Clinton was brought in, to remove an independent political power from within the President's own party, is of course the most interesting. The three major categories of Obamians are the "team of rivals" (essentially Secretary Clinton and to some extent), former Clinton Administration officials though usually those from the lower levels of power in the 90s who would probably work for any elected Democrat, and the true Obamians, many of whom got to know Obama when he was in the Senate. Not everyone fits into these categories neatly such as Richard Holbrooke and Bob Gates.

The Bush II story may have been a little more compelling and easier to tell as the neoconservative ideology was a major driver of Bush's foreign policy decisions and the conflict between Secretary Powell and the rest of the Bush team was a bit more striking than any conflict here. Rise of the Vulcans was published before President Bush's second term led to a reassessment of many of the early foreign policy decisions. In Obama's White House, there is less of a strict ideology and when there is one, Mann finds it is often just being the opposite of Bush.
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Format: Hardcover
A thorough review of three years of foreign policy under the Obama administration, focusing on the conflict and interplay between the young and less experienced idealists that Obama brought in and the more experienced realists with whom they had to work in order to function.

This book is not pro-Obama or anti-Obama, but, rather, covers Obama's triumphs, most notably the killing of Osama bin Laden, and his failures, notably the decision not to support the Green movement in Iran and Obama's poor treatment of Richard Holbrooke.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a solid and timely account of American foreign policy under President Obama. Mann focuses on foreign policy narrowly and fully discusses military strategy while mostly ignoring other aspects of international relations such as trade policy and issues like budgeting and defense spending which require negotiations with Congress. The book thus begins with a short history of Democratic foreign policy under the Carter and Clinton administrations. The next few chapters detail the Obama primary/presidential campaigns and the rise of the "Obamians," the group of youngish advisers that were attracted to Obama by his personality but had much less foreign policy experience than the more senior, establishment Democrats that aligned with Hillary Clinton during the primary contest.

From here the book devotes chapters to various episodes in international affairs since 2008 and how the Obama administration managed them. Some of these chapters are a bit tedious and read like a simple rehash of newspaper accounts of global events. That being said, the chapters on China (chapter 13) and the assassination of Bin Laden (chapter 21) were captivating reading because the author perfectly blended factual occurrences with strategic planning. The book shines when Mann relies on information gleaned from an impressive array of interviews with insiders to give a behind-the-scenes image of how events looked from the White House. The tone is largely neutral except for repeated praise for Obama's "elegant" speeches (which get their own chapter) and some criticism of Obama's unwillingness to keep a campaign promise to abide by the War Powers Resolution.
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