After a year with President Barack Obama at the helm of U.S. foreign policy, an observer could be forgiven for concluding that the presidency is more like taking over the controls of a train than getting behind the wheel of a car. That’s because you can’t steer a train; you can only determine its speed. So far, the menu of foreign policy challenges, and the Administration’s response to each, is remarkably similar at the close of 2009 to what it was at the close of 2008.
Obama’s promises of outreach to adversaries and consultation and coordination with allies certainly cleared away some of the negative atmospherics left by the Bush Administration. However, his substantial policy positions have proven to be remarkably similar to those of the second-term, chastened-by-reality George W. Bush. Indeed, anti-war Democrats groaned when the President, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, referred to “evil in the world” and hailed America’s willingness to use force abroad over the past six decades as an essential component of global security. The neoconservatives cheered.
The reality is far more complex than that snapshot, of course, but a survey of Obama’s handling of the main strategic challenges appears to affirm the old Cold War dictum that domestic political partisanship ends at the water’s edge. [continued…]