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Obama at one year: new realism in foreign policy

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But he sees the same “narrowing” of goals elsewhere in the president’s diplomacy.

“Look at the trip to China, where human rights took a back seat and the agenda suddenly looked less full than with Bush,” he says. “It’s another example of narrowly concentrating with steely-eyed focus on core national interests.”

Others counter that Obama’s foreign-policy approach is not so much about narrowing goals as it is about redefining American power for the 21st century.

“In some ways, we have moved back under Obama to a more traditional American internationalism of the kind practiced by George H.W. Bush,” says Heather Hurlburt, a former speechwriter to President Clinton and Madeleine Albright, who is now executive director of the National Security Network in Washington. “But there is also a 21st-century difference that accounts for so much of what [Obama] is doing.” That “difference” includes a diffusion of global power among a longer list of players – countries like China, India, and Brazil.

But it also derives from what Ms. Hurlburt calls a “sense of eight years of squandering our military power and our smart power, and then an economic crisis that has placed additional limits on us.” The result, she says, is that “Obama has to take this diffusion of power into account even as he acts to
repair the damage done to America’s standing and ability to persuade in the world.”

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