Obama at one year: new realism in foreign policy
Less ideological than Bush, Barack Obama pursues a more traditional approach to foreign affairs, marked by a narrower definition of US interests.
The reference was tucked modestly into a list of individuals cited as the world’s true peacemakers at the end of Barack Obama’s surprisingly muscular Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. “Somewhere today,” the president said in December, “a young protester awaits the brutality of her government ... [yet she will] still strive for justice.”Skip to next paragraph
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The profile in defiant courage he was widely thought to be basing his vision on was Neda Agha Soltan, the young Iranian whose death at the hands of her government during postelection demonstrations in Tehran was captured on video – and became the image viewed round the world.
As shocking as Ms. Soltan’s public killing was, though, even more disturbing for many human rights advocates and supporters of an interventionist American foreign policy was President Obama’s silence on the actions of the Iranian regime itself. True, Obama would end up criticizing Tehran for its repressive response to the protests – eventually. And he has repeated his muted recognition of Iranian dissidence as the protests have continued in 2010.
But his initial tone was that of an idealist who still wanted to achieve a dialogue with Tehran, which represented the top trophy in the president’s vision of conducting diplomacy with America’s adversaries.
One year after taking office, it’s that tension between the reality that has to be addressed and the ideal to strive for that lies at the foundation of Obama’s worldview.
In some ways, it is a surprisingly hawkish vision, in the image of Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt – who fought and won a terrible world war, and then founded the United Nations. But it is also internationalist and multilateralist, like George Bush – the father, not the son – and it is realist like Richard Nixon, who wound down an unpopular war and dared to engage what was then called Red China.
Obama’s is a world of two wars – one of which he has decided to escalate, though (he hopes) for a limited time. It is a world where America will do battle with a violent and stateless adversary not subject to dialogue and negotiation, though in a form that is clipped and less ideological as compared with his predecessor’s.
As his response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner suggests, this is now less a war on terror than a multifaceted national security battle that hinges on intelligence, global cooperation, and police work.
It is a world of regimes lusting for the very nuclear weapons he would eradicate. Obama confronts all this within a reality he sees of an America of finite means and still-unique, though waning, power – and thus an America that will have to rely more on leading by example than by imposition.