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NYT: Obama the Realist

Author: Ross Douthat, New York Times
February 6, 2011

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In this New York Times Op-Ed, Ross Douthat examines President Obama's handling of the Egyptian revolution and determines what it reveals about his foreign policy instincts.

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama played to two very different foreign policy constituencies. Often he presented himself as the tribune of the anti-war left — the only candidate who had opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, the man who could be trusted to civilize the global war on terror, and the perfect figure to smooth the transition to a post-American world order. To more bipartisan audiences, though, he cast himself as a cold-eyed realist — the rightful heir to George H. W. Bush, if not Henry Kissinger, who would pursue America's interests without pretending (as the younger President Bush often did) that they matched up perfectly with America's democratic ideals.

This two-step worked during the election season because realists and left-wingers were united in their weariness with the Bush administration, and their distrust of John McCain. But to govern is to choose, and after two years in office we can say with some certainty where Barack Obama's instincts really lie. From the war on terror to the current unrest in Egypt, his foreign policy has owed far more to conservative realpolitik than to any left-wing vision of international affairs.

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