Monday, May 13, 2013

Stephen Walt and Realist foreign policy in the Obama Administration

Stephen Walt has an intriguing, favorable evaluation of the Obama Administration for a non-war-inclined Realist perspective in Barack the buck-passer Foreign Policy 05/06/2013. And in this instance, Walt thinks buck-passing is a good thing:

I think I have finally figured out the essence of Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy. In a word, he is a "buck-passer." And despite my objections to some of what he is done, I think this approach reveals both a sound grasp of realpolitik and an appreciation of America's highly favorable geopolitical position.

In particular, the bedrock foundation of Obama's foreign policy is his recognition that the United States is very, very secure. That statement doesn't mean we have no interests elsewhere, but none of them are truly imminent or vital and thus they don't require overzealous, precipitous, or heroic responses. There's no peer competitor out there (yet) and apart from the very small risk of nuclear terrorism, there's hardly anything that could happen anywhere in the world that would put U.S. territory or U.S. citizens at serious risk. We will inevitably face occasional tragedies like the recent Boston bombing, but the actual risk that such dangers pose is far less than many other problems (traffic fatalities, industrial accidents, hurricanes, etc.), no matter how much they get hyped by the terror industry and our over-caffeinated media. [my emphasis]
Walt faults Obama for his ill-advised escalation ("surge") in Afghaninstan, which he parenthetically describes as "a decision I'll bet he secretly regrets."

He sums up:

I have my doubts about the net benefits of the drone war and targeted assassination program, but the rest of Obama's approach makes eminently good sense to me. Indeed, I wish he could give one of his trademark speeches explaining this logic to the American people. He probably can't, alas, because this sort of realism cuts against the rhetoric of "global leadership" that has been part of the Establishment echo-chamber for decades, not to mention the self-conceit of American exceptionalists. So Obama will continue to sound like his predecessors when he talks about America's global role; he just won't do most of the foolish things that most of them would have. Good for him, and for us. [my emphasis]
That rhetorical restraint, though, is part of Obama's chronic problem from a progressive standpoint. Nixon and Kissinger, despite their many undesirable acts as public officials, did dramatically change the context of Cold War thinking with the SALT nuclear arms control treaty and the diplomatic opening to China. It was even fashionable for a few years there to talk about "detente" having replaced the Cold War, though now convention considers the entire period from 1948 (at the latest) to 1989 as the Cold War.

With their advocacy of preventive war and torture, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush also qualitatively changed the way people think about foreign policy and terrorism.

Obama has significantly restrained the policy without challenging its premises.

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