The Accommodator: Obama's Foreign Policy

By Dueck, Colin | Policy Review, October-November 2011 | Go to article overview

The Accommodator: Obama's Foreign Policy


Dueck, Colin, Policy Review


Almost three years into his administration, observers continue to debate the nature of President Obama's overall foreign policy approach. What is the "Obama doctrine"? Some say it is a policy of international engagement. Some point to Libya, and suggest that the Obama doctrine is one of humanitarian intervention multilaterally and at minimal cost. Some look to today's fiscal constraints and say that it is all about insolvency. Some describe the Obama doctrine as a version of traditional great power realism, coming after the crusading idealism of the Bush years. Others respond that Obama has no foreign policy strategy at all--that he is simply making it up as he goes along.

Each interpretation has a certain kernel of truth, but each is also seriously flawed and incomplete. Barack Obama does in fact have an overarching foreign policy strategy, going back several years in spite of recent upheavals, but its basic organizing principle is neither engagement, nor intervention, nor insolvency, nor realism per se. The centerpiece of Obama's overall for eign policy strategy is the concept of accommodation. Specifically, the president believes that international rivalries can be accommodated by American example and by his own integrative personal leadership. The problem is not that Obama has no grand strategy. The problem is that it is not working.

Obama's grand strategy

Any grand strategy or overall foreign policy strategy does several things. First, it specifies certain national goals or ends. Second, it identifies the policy instruments or means by which national goals will be pursued. These instruments might include, for example, diplomatic commitments, military intervention, foreign aid, and/or economic sanctions. Any viable strategy must ensure that means and ends are well matched. Commitments must not exceed capabilities. Yet strategy--unlike say, sculpture--also recognizes that our targets are animate objects, with the ability to respond, make choices, and fight back. Consequently, effective foreign policy strategists must and do strike a fine balance. On the one hand, they need to know what they want. On the other, they must be flexible as to how exactly they pursue it, given the inevitable surprises resulting from pushback by other actors within the international system.

The primary ends and means of Obama's foreign policy strategy can be inferred from both his actions and his words, which have been broadly consistent since his election to the White House. To begin, his chief policy interest is not in the international realm at all, but in the domestic. Obama's leading motivation for becoming president, as he himself has said, was not simply to get elected, much less to focus on foreign affairs, but to "remake America." He aims at and has already achieved dramatic liberal or progressive reforms in numerous domestic policy areas such as health care and financial regulation.

This focus on liberal domestic reform has several implications for American grand strategy, as Obama well knows. First, it means that resources must be shifted in relative terms from national security spending to domestic social and economic spending--a shift clearly visible in recent federal budgets. Second, it means steering clear of partisan political fights over national security that might detract from Obama's overall political capital. Third, it means that potentially costly new international entanglements must for the most part be avoided. Sometimes these three imperatives are in tension with one another. For example, in the autumn of 2009, Obama was tempted to begin winding down America's military engagement in Afghanistan, yet at the same time wanted to avoid appearing weak on terrorism. So he settled on an approach that called for temporary U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, resolved by subsequent disengagement beginning in July 2011. That approach was hardly optimal militarily, but it was the least bad policy for Obama in domestic political terms given his overarching priori ties. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Accommodator: Obama's Foreign Policy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.