Obama's Foreign Policy: Like Kissinger?

Or perhaps Woodrow Wilson--or Bush Sr.

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President Obama has faced some serious foreign policy challenges during his first year in office: uprisings in Iran, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, currency manipulation in China, and stalled peace efforts in Israel-Palestine. More recently, high-level wrangling at the Nuclear Security Summit put Obama diplomacy center stage. Now some analysts have stepped back to ask what style Obama has shown on foreign policy. In making their assessments, they offer some surprising comparisons--including to Nixon-era Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

  • G.W. Bush Official: He's 'Kissingerian'  The Assistant Secretary of State under George W. Bush, Stephen Rademaker means it as a compliment. "For a president coming out of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, it’s remarkable how much he has pursued a great power strategy. It’s almost Kissingerian. It’s not very sentimental. Issues of human rights do not loom large in his foreign policy, and issues of democracy promotion, he’s been almost dismissive of."
  • Rahm Emanuel: He's Bush Sr.  The White House Chief of Staff, a veteran of the Clinton administration, is surprisingly complimentary in citing George H.W. Bush. "Everybody always breaks it down between idealist and realist. ... If you had to put him in a category, he’s probably more realpolitik, like Bush 41. ... He knows that personal relationships are important, but you’ve got to be cold-blooded about the self-interests of your nation."
  • Wrong! He's Woodrow Wilson  Hard-nosed neocon Robert Kagan scoffs, "here is what realism is not: It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world's powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge."
  • He's Something Entirely New  Harvard professor Joseph Nye defines "a new synthesis that [we] might call liberal realism. It starts with an understanding of the strength and limits of American power. ... Power always depends upon context, and in the context of transnational relations (such as climate change, illegal drugs, pandemics, and terrorism) power is diffuse and chaotically distributed. Military power is a small part of the solution in responding to these new threats. They require cooperation among governments and international institutions. Obama seems to understand this well."
  • Obama's Realpolitik  The New York Times' Peter Baker assesses the scene. "If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.