I’ve come across numerous articles this semester that have described President Obama’s foreign policy approach as being marred by idealism. This accusation was especially prevalent in Dueck’s article “The Accommodator.”
Dueck seems to be incapable of imagining foreign policy outside of the context of traditional realism. He argues that Barack Obama simply “does not understand” that states act in their self- interest, and that a policy of “leading from behind” involving the accommodation of other states’ foreign policy goals will not eliminate this reality. Dueck believes that Obama’s focus on improving relations with the Middle East, particularly with Iran has weakened the United States’ position.
President Obama has indicated to Iran that he is open to improving relations with Iran, rather than being “strong” by further condemning Iran’s corruption and pursuit of nuclear weapons. In regards to Russia, Obama has “accommodated” to their desires to be influential in Eastern Europe by signing the New START treaty and suspending the construction of missile defense systems instead of pushing forward with construction and forcing Russia to acquiesce to U.S. interests in the region. The U.S. has also encouraged improved relations with China, and has not pushed toward condemning China’s human rights abuses.
However, Dueck’s argument is simply one that states basically “Obama has not done what a realist would do.” Furthermore, Obama’s foreign policy has been difficult to analyze because he has not followed the template traditionally used by presidents in the past. He has pushed for a policy in which relations have been on the forefront. To this extent Obama is an idealist, going away from traditional foreign policy which focuses on strengthening the United States’ lead as world-path-determiner.
Is there no room for idealism in foreign policy? Is there no room to take a risk on diplomacy over militarization? Should we always frame the argument in terms of the weak and the strong, the good and the evil, the west versus the east? It seems that the traditional arguments have left no room for other options. It seems to suggest that we should force our ideas down the throat of others in the hopes that they will not fight back. I suggest giving a bit of idealism a chance.