David J. Danelo: Obama's 'Realist' Foreign Policy
When David J. Danelo, writing in "The Thin Red Line: Policy Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan" (E-Notes, FPRI, May 2014), referred to Obama's foreign policy as "realist," I stopped skimming the article, read more closely and carefully, and saw that "soft power realism" was meant: "President Obama's foreign policy has been lifted entirely from a soft power realist's playbook." The problem is that states like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria don't believe that soft power will get them what they want -- unless it's America's soft power, which does get them what they want. Not that Danelo is quick to push any military buttons, but here's what he does think:
Great nations do not go to war recklessly, but they do not repeatedly draw rhetorical red lines without consequence. Beyond drone strikes and special operations raids, Obama Administration officials seems to view American military force -- and U.S. hard power in general -- as a necessary evil to be suffered rather than a tool to be prudently employed. In Syria, when the President imposed and removed a red line on chemical weapons, and Ukraine, when he bluntly stated the U.S. would not use direct military action to deter Russian aggression, the President has, in Adam Garfinkle's words, engaged in "gratuitous diplomatic self-mutilation."Danelo's message is an old one: "If you want peace, prepare for war." In Latin, that's "Si vis pacem, para bellum," and it's said to be a rewording of a statement penned by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus in Book 3 of his tract De Re Militari (4th or 5th century A.D.), not that I know very much about that.
Although the President lectures Americans that his Russian counterpart's bullying signifies weakness, eastern Ukraine's instability suggests the opposite. Having lost credibility twice (Syria, Ukraine) from Russian red line diplomatic maneuvering, the Obama Administration must demonstrate through actions, not rhetoric, what red lines it will fight for if crossed. Such a statement may come across as bombastic, but enlightened exploits are as critical to realism as practical restraint. In a multipolar world, such tactics must be part of a realist's policy calculus. Pragmatic choices after considering options represent wisdom; white flags after red lines denote spinelessness. Preserving peace requires preparing, and perhaps even posturing, for war.
Anyway, I doubt that the Obama administration will change much. Obama doesn't seem to like foreign policy, but sees himself as a domestic policy president instead, in which there are also problems . . .