There’s an article at The National Interest discussing an interesting question. Is Barack Obama a foreign policy realist?
If we take President Obama at his word that he is not a realist—and there are good reasons to do so—his administration’s long flirtation with foreign-policy realism and especially with the Left’s “progressive realists” raises two important questions. First, why were the president and his advisers comfortable with longtime and widely held perceptions that he was a realist? Second, what changed their minds?
Answering these questions with any certainty would require a front-row seat in the White House Emergency Public Relations Bunker that one can too easily imagine the administration building immediately beneath the Situation Room for its most important decision making. Still, it is not difficult to see how the image of foreign-policy realism could appeal to the president and his communications team—it has provided superficial intellectual and political legitimacy to Obama’s frequently expressed desire to concentrate on “nation building at home.” It likewise helped the administration to justify avoiding undue involvement in complex and time-consuming international problems, especially those inherited from former president George W. Bush, whose legacy the White House has publicly repudiated but quietly continued in many respects.
Want to get out of Iraq? Pivot to Asia instead—it’s more strategically important. Need to withdraw from Afghanistan? We’ve done all we can there. Hope to stay out of further wars in the Middle East? Negotiate with Iran and use Congress as an excuse to stay out of Syria. Americans frustrated with Bush’s expensive choices were understandably tempted.
I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that in international relations “realism” is a term of art that doesn’t mean what you might think it does if you don’t run in international relations circles—something along the lines of “not ideological”. I honestly don’t think we’ve had a foreign policy realist with major influence in policy-making here since Kissinger.
I’d certainly be interested in hearing the argument pro and con in comments.
Just for the record I do not consider myself a foreign policy realist. Pessimistic idealist.