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Obama at one year: new realism in foreign policy

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Any assessment of Obama's first year in office must deal with the most immediate “before,” which means in this case George W. Bush. His vision for transformation of the Middle East started with “regime change,” to be followed up with an imposed democratization.

While President Bush’s decisionmaking often derived from ideological certitudes and presidential gut feelings, Obama’s is seen as deliberative – some say hyperdeliberative – as exemplified by the 10 national-security team meetings he held over nearly three months before he made his Afghanistan decision.

Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, announced Dec. 1 at West Point before a sea of cadets in dress gray, is one of a few major initiatives that experts have pored over to glean the signposts of this president’s foreign policy. Others include his engagement strategy with adversaries, in particular Iran, and what was widely interpreted as a deferential demeanor during his trip to Asia – most notably toward Beijing.

Like Mr. Kupchan, many analysts are hesitant to proclaim an “Obama doctrine” that would define this president the way preventive war and American unilateralism made up the Bush doctrine. Engagement of America’s adversaries is the shorthand some experts have settled on to describe an Obama doctrine. For others, it’s a whittling down of global aspirations to a core of realistic goals.

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