Obama and Foreign Relations

Victor Davis Hanson, a philosopher of international relations from a neoconservative viewpoints, queries if the optimism about Obama and international relations is more hooplah and than reality. Here is an excerpt of his piece:

There is great hope that President-elect
Obama will change the course of U.S. foreign policy, create far greater
goodwill toward America, and thereby ease world tensions. Such optimism
is not based on former Sen. Obama’s foreign-policy experience. In
essence, he has none.

Nor does improvement hinge on Obama’s
past career in Chicago politics or his U.S. Senate tenure — the former
was problematic at best, the latter cursory.

Instead, our great expectations derive from four rosy, but heretofore unquestioned assumptions:

1) Most of the current Bush policies are not merely wrong, but inflammatory: ipsis factis

2) Obama’s singular eloquence, youth, charisma, and “presence” will win
over the world in the manner it swept the American electorate,
providing a welcome change from the “smoke ’em out” Texas global
turn-off of the past;

3) Obama’s exotic name, his
multiracial background, the Muslim faith of his father, and his
dalliance with hard-left politics as a student and community-organizer
will all coalesce to sort of “flip” the image (if not the reality) of
the U.S., as the world’s superpower transmogrifies from an oppressive
to a sympathetic international player;

4) The reemergence of
Clintonites such as Hillary, Emanuel, Panetta, Podesta, Susan Rice, and
others will bring back successful advocates of “soft power,”
“multilateralism,” and “engagement,” who reflect Obama’s worldview, but
bring a gritty realism to the implementation of an often heretofore
utopian rhetoric.

What does Hanson think will happen?

All Americans in bipartisan fashion should hope that Obama will get
though successfully the perilous first six months at a time when the
U.S. economy is shaky, the Commander-in-chief unproven, and our enemies
eager to test our president’s mettle. Yet I suspect that conservatives
will more likely than liberals forgive the fact that Obama’s governance
at times will come to resemble just what he used to caricature in
George W. Bush.

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  • kyle j

    While I agree that the hard choices Obama is confronted with around the world will, at times, require him to make much the same sorts of decisions Bush did, the big “change” is this: Obama is making appointments based on competence and experience, rather than ideology and cronyism. And that, I hope, will make more than a little difference in how he conducts policy–both overseas and at home.

  • Chris E

    I think it would be a hard case to make that Bush’s foreign policy team was inexperienced. You might not agree with their ideology, but inexperienced they were not. Speaking of inexperienced, what’s up with Panetta? 🙂

  • William Brown

    I’m sure there’s something I’m missing here. But with Emanuel at his side how can Obama take any other stance regarding Israel than the same old “Israel has the right to defend itself”?

  • cas

    As a bi-racial person, Obama has had to be a diplomat his whole life. He has deep connections to the world outside the US. His experience of the world couldn’t be more different than George Bush’s. His failures will likely look different as well.

  • :mic

    There seem to be two suppositions at work in this statement, both which have been identified in the comments. 1) Obama’s foreign policy will look different than Bush’s. 2) Obama’s foreign policy will be based upon his own experience.
    Both of these statements are straightforward enough, perhaps to the point of not needing to point them out. Except that the discussion seems to be centered upon them, though not with the best synthesis and understanding of the facts. Yes, Obama’s foreign policy will look different than Bush’s – but this does not mean that he will be totally correct or totally wrong in his decisions. Every president makes decisions which turn out to be wrong, only some get attacked for it in the press. To think that Obama will not make blunders (on many levels) in his policy is quite naive.
    And, yes, Obama’s foreign policy will be based on his experience. The problem here, though, is that he has none. Entering in to the office with no executive experience, and a short (largely absentee) term as a US Senator does not give him any experience by which we can judge him at this point. So he will have to rely on those around him. But instead of true change he has resorted back to the Clinton era, placing people into the administration who we can judge on experience. You might like one approach over the other, but you cannot simply suppose that Obama is bringing a completely new tone to the game. Such sentiment simply does not match what’s happening.
    So, kyle j, I think you must reconsider your statement as it doesn’t quite work. I agree with Chris E here. Perhaps Scot will do a series on modern Israel and their defense, but I can’t quite understand why a sovereign nation cannot defend themselves. And, cas. . .is it a stretch to quantify the content of someone’s character based on the color of their skin?

  • cas

    No :mic, I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that his experience as a biracial person gives him unique strengths. And I’m quite sure I didn’t “quantity the content of his character…” though it’s a lovely turn of phrase.

  • Doug Allen

    Hanson is ungenerous and plain wrong with some of his comments. Is the latter because of his ungenerous disposition?
    Experience- Obama was a member of the foreign relations committee. His vice president was its chair. He has chosen very competent and experienced members of his cabinet, praised by conservatives and liberals alike.
    Management- Obama just proved himself to be a very skilled manager in the two year campaign which many on both sides of the aisle consider the most skillful and competent campaign ever run. Compare it with Clinton’s and especially McCain’s.
    Global respect- Obama’s “presence” will win over the world like it won over the electorate. Open your eyes Mr. Hanson. That’s already happened.
    Ideology- Obama’s “dalliance with hard left politics as a student and community-organizer” is about as wrong-headed as the neocon ignorance about the Iraqis. Did any of you see the PBS hour long piece on Obama or study his background. He became editor of the Harvard law review because of his centrist ideas and inclusion of the different mainstream factions competing for the editorship. He chose a board that promiently included federalists- yes they supported him and were happy with his tenure as editor! It should come as no surprise that Obama has been centrist and inclusive in his appointments, OK center left if you want to split hairs. Being a community organizer requires a great negotiating style and ability to get along with all the power elites as well as the disinfranchised or marginalized you are trying to help.
    As :mic #5 says, and as Obama himself frequently says, I’m very imperfect and will make mistakes.
    I’d like to have a higher opinion of the neocons, but Hanson’s editorial doesn’t help.

  • kyle j

    Chris E: I’ll concede that Bush’s foreign policy appointees were experienced (I was thinking of other Cabinet appointees when I threw that word in: Brown at FEMA, for example). But allowing dogma to rule the first six years of his administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz) clearly hindered the administration’s ability to adjust course when needed, regardless of how one felt about the war in Iraq.
    mic: If a Democrat is going to find experienced, qualified, high-level staff, the Clinton is administration is where he’s going to have to go. As to the “no executive-level experience,” I think that card doesn’t play too well at this point. No presidential candidate (outside of someone like George Bush, Sr.) comes in with both (1) foreign policy experience and (2) executive experience. You’re either a senator and (maybe) have the former or you’re a governor and have the latter. Obama has done about as much as you could expect in terms of (1) showing he’s a quick study and (2) making qualified appointments.
    Again, there’s no panacea here, and I think many on the left will be disappointed with how many decisions Obama makes that are roughly the same as what Bush would do. But the overall approach he’s taking is much more likely to lead to competent, and adaptable, decision making–which matters a lot more in the realm of foreign policy than ideology does.

  • The burning of a flag in Iran with Obama’s face on it, is a clear indicator of what the radical Islamic folks think of him. Bottom line from their standpoint is he is Christian and part of the christian empire/world, therefore he is evil and Jihad will continue even to his demise.
    Having first hand stories of encounters with some of these folks via interrogation and questioning – they are a stiff-necked people when it comes to Jihad. Look the word up and its true meaning. It is not necessarily just war – it is also a subversive infiltration and implementation of their beliefs and system of law. Look to the UK to get a glimpse of what the rest of the world may look like in the future.
    Either way.., God is in control and I will live in any context that He chooses to allow me to live in; but Pres elect Obama would make no more a difference in the world than having Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State will. The image of America is tarnished by our consumerism; our ego; and our stickin our nose in every little skirmish in the world. However, it is also tarnished by a very well oiled multi-billion dollar media machine that is manipulated world wide to make us look like the Evil Empire. When is the last time you heard of an American suicide bombing innocent women and children? When was the last time you heard of an American beheading a person on film to show the family and the world? When was the last time you heard of an American baking a family member for dinner to be served to the other family members as a form of torture to ensure they don’t turn away from their beliefs? Let me see….., I can’t remember a last time?
    It is not just an America problem – it is a world problem; and until something very drastic happens I do not see the radical Islamic world changing it’s pattern. I hate to be so pessimistic, because normally I am very optimistic; but this has been going on since 700 A.D. – no?
    Thanks for letting me vent.

  • Jon

    kylej (1) Out of curiousity (and I seriously am not trying to be vindictive), how is Obama’s appointment for the head of the CIA either based on competence or experience?

  • kyle j

    Jon: Panneta’s an outlier in terms of direct intelligence experience. But he certainly knows his way around the federal government. And White House Chiefs of Staff are privy to highest level of national security information.
    The bigger issue is adaptability–as opposed to an adherence to dogma. Again, whatever one’s political beliefs might be (I bounce back and forth depending on the issue), I think you have to concede that the original set of Bush appointees tended to see the world through a single lens and couldn’t adapt to changing circumstances, to the detriment of the country in many policy areas.

  • Obama’s charisma certainly inspires confidence in his ability to “win over the world”. And frankly, why shouldn’t it? In today’s sound bite\video clip world, charisma can go a long way. It would be foolish however to act as though all Obama has going for him is a nice personality. Obama has clearly laid out his policies, and, although I don’t agree with some of them (regarding morality and ethics), has demonstrated that he is a strong and capable leader.