I disagree with Mark Salter’s assessment of President Obama’s foreign policy:
The president who ran for the office boasting he would restore seriousness and realism to American foreign policy has conducted the least serious and most unrealistic foreign policy in living memory. His pronouncements barely make an impression even on cable news anymore and are mocked by apparatchiks from Damascus to Moscow.
I think Mr. Salter’s memory is selective. Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, predicated on the notion that the United States could function in the world on the basis of moral suasion alone, was clearly “the least serious and most unrealistic foreign policy in living memory”. During his tenure as president, Barack Obama has conducted a much more, er, kinetic campaign in Afghanistan than George W. Bush did (most of the U. S. casualties in Afghanistan over our 13 year campaign there have been during Obama’s presidency), conducted an air campaign that lead to the overthrow of the legitimate government of Libya, and sent U. S. armed drones into action in nearly a dozen countries. That’s a significantly more extensive use of U. S. military force than by Ronald Reagan, cited by some as the paradigm of toughness.
The problems that I have with President Obama’s foreign policy are, essentially, two. I don’t think that the U. S. should make threats as he did against Syria for example, especially if we don’t intend to follow through with them. That’s a problem typical of American presidents—speaking a bit too much.
And I don’t believe you can construct a coherent foreign policy touting the importance of international institutions and law on the one hand while flouting them by exceeding Security Council mandates in Libya or ignoring them with violations of national sovereignty or waging war without Security Council authorization on the other.
The word for that isn’t unserious or unrealistic. It also isn’t realism. The word is sophistry.