by Dish Staff
It is very easy to take cheap pot-shots at Obama. We must recall the alternatives would have been tragically worse. Even within his own party, as Hillary Clinton’s recent comments to Jeffrey Goldberg make clear, breezy certitudes around play-pretend muscularity are meant to showcase greater foreign policy gravitas, but actually too often indicate precisely the opposite. Indeed, we should commend Obama his caution, his rationality, his use of scalpels rather than hammers. By this I mean that a period of American retrenchment was well needed—almost inevitable—after the gross excesses of the post 9/11 Bush years. But Obama’s tragedy is that he has not accompanied a period of American retrenchment, even decline, with strategic panache (for instance, Nixon and Kissinger’s opening to China on the heels of the disastrous Vietnam War). He does not seem seized of the possibilities his office affords.
Due to his lack of an overarching strategy, Paul Saunders objects to those who would label Obama a “realist”:
The principal reason that Obama’s critics and defenders considered him a realist for so long has been his administration’s generally pragmatic policies. But realism is much more than pragmatism; confusing the two is one of the most fundamental and enduring errors in America’s foreign-policy debates. Realism is pragmatism rooted in awareness of international anarchy, infused with a deep understanding of American power and in service of a strategy based on American national interests. Obama is not a realist because his policies typically start and stop with the pragmatic and even the opportunistic. He appears to have excessive faith in international norms, little real appreciation of power’s uses and limits, and minimal interest in foreign policy, much less American international strategy.