What's happening at the
Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 08:55 | SYDNEY
Thursday 22 Feb 2018 | 08:55 | SYDNEY

Obama's foreign policy realism



4 November 2008 08:17

In an article published last week in the new online magazine The Daily Beast, I argue that despite being a McCain adviser, Henry Kissinger really ought to vote for Obama on Tuesday, since he would be a run a more realistic foreign policy than McCain. Obama’s pragmatism was apparent in his 2002 speech against the Iraq war:

I don’t oppose all wars… What I am opposed to is a dumb war… a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics… I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military is a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

That’s not to say Obama would be a Kissingerian realist, however, moving the geopolitical chess pieces around the board with an icy indifference to the human costs of his moves. His administration would need to keep faith with Democratic (actually, American) values such as a commitment to human rights and a determination to prevent genocide.

I also believe, as I hinted in The Interpreter a while back, that Obama’s nods to the foreign policies of George H.W. Bush amount to gamesmanship as much as anything. To be sure, the Democratic nominee and the people around him admire the deftness of the first Bush Administration in corralling a huge coalition to fight the Gulf War.

However, it’s not really helpful to compare an Obama foreign policy with that of George H.W. Bush, and not only because the international system has changed so much over the past two decades. In office, Bush Snr was criticized by Democrats for the amorality of his international policy. And the affection many contemporary Democrats hold for Bush Snr's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft is based largely on his opposition to the Iraq war, not his full career or worldview.

For many of Obama’s advisers, the formative experiences of the 1990s were the Clinton Administration’s failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide and its success in stopping the blood-letting in the Balkans – so it is easy to imagine humanitarian intervention becoming a theme of his presidency. Certainly, it’s impossible to imagine Obama’s secretary of state saying coolly, as did James Baker in 1991 of the Balkan wars: 'We don’t have a dog in that fight.'

You may also be interested in...