A few weeks ago, Larison argued that Obama is no realist:
[I]ntervention in Libya was exactly what one wouldn’t expect from “a replica of the administration of George H.W. Bush.” Obama launched the Libyan war over the objections of Robert Gates, so we cannot rule out the possibility that he could do the same elsewhere over the objections of a Secretary Hagel.
Agreed. There is a bleeding heart in the midst of that platinum cool. Leon Hadar counters that Bush I was no dove:
[O]ne must explain why a non-direct U.S. military intervention in Libya should be considered more “internationalist” and “interventionist” and less “realist” than the first Iraq war, Panama, and Somalia.
Millman weighs in:
President Obama, like all post-war American Presidents, Republican and Democrat, is not an instinctive anti-interventionist. He’s an internationalist, with both liberal-internationalist and conservative-internationalist inclinations, and that’s reflected in his record. He is governing, like Nixon, in a period of retrenchment, and like Nixon he has been laboring primarily to prevent loss rather than to advance. Like Nixon as well, he makes few bones about legal restraints on his authority. But I tend to agree with Hadar that his record fits in pretty well with post-war Republican predecessors who we tend to call, rightly or wrongly, “realist.” Contra Larison, even his Libyan adventure can be understood partly in these terms.
Larison steps up once more:
I consider the Libyan war to be much more like interventions in the Balkans [than Iraq] because the U.S. had no real stake in the outcome of those conflicts just as the U.S. had no stake in the outcome of Libya’s internal conflict. In all these cases, no conceivable U.S. interests were at stake.
And Hadar goes a final round:
[B]ased on my reading of President Obama’s foreign policy, including his resistance to get drawn into intervention in Syria and into war with Iran, his muddling through or empiricist approach toward the so-called Arab Spring, his ending the war in Iraq and accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the emphasis on the U.S. relationship with other great powers and on the need to protect U.S. interests as opposed to the global promotion of democracy, I would argue that when its comes to foreign policy and national security, President Obama can be compared favorably with Republican President George H. W. Bush. And in contrast to the current Republican foreign policy agenda—with its emphasis of invading countries and doing regime change here, there, and everywhere—President Obama is at least trying to bring U.S. global commitments and power into some balance.
I think (and hope) that Hadar is basically right – which is why Chuck Hagel was picked (and Gates before him). Mali will be an interesting test-case, though. You can almost sense Larison preparing to pounce.