Hampton Stephens questions Obama's foreign policy proposals:
George Bush's foreign policy has been too-much influenced by the Wilsonian idea that America can make the world safe for democracy. It often goes unmentioned, however, that self-described liberal internationalists also believe American foreign policy should have a "transformative agenda," as Powers puts it -- whether the goal is liberty, dignity, or development. The problem with Bush's foreign policy, according to the current liberal internationalist critique, has not been its fundamental goals, but the means used to pursue them: military force, unilateralism, etc.
To replace neoconservative democracy promotion by force, Obama seems to be proposing a different kind of crusade. He and his advisers seem to believe that American foreign policy can deliver the human race from indignity and want. Even if their strategy for achieving this goal doesn't rely on military force, such an expansive view of the capabilities of U.S. foreign policy is dangerously unrealistic. It seems particularly overly ambitious in light of the growing evidence about what traditional forms of development aid have actually accomplished. (Not to mention that Obama's agenda seems too hostile to a form of global development and economic uplift that often proves rather more effective than aid: trade.)
I second this worry. If the last seven years have not heightened one's skepticism about the transformative effects of American interventionism, what would? This is not to say that some limited engagement to ameliorate pressing disasters or prudent intervention to deter evil or rescue the truly indigent have to be ruled out of bounds. But the messianic quality of Bush's force and Obama's "dignity"-promotion seems overweening to me.