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Policy Review: The Accommodator: Obama's Foreign Policy

Author: Colin Dueck
October 1, 2011

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George Mason University's Colin Dueck assesses Obama’s foreign policy model, noting that it concedes much up front but garners little in return.

Almost three years into his administration, observers continue to debate the nature of President Obama’s overall foreign policy approach. What is the “Obama doctrine”? Some say it is a policy of international engagement. Some point to Libya, and suggest that the Obama doctrine is one of humanitarian intervention multilaterally and at minimal cost. Some look to today’s fiscal constraints and say that it is all about insolvency. Some describe the Obama doctrine as a version of traditional great power realism, coming after the crusading idealism of the Bush years. Others respond that Obama has no foreign policy strategy at all — that he is simply making it up as he goes along.

Each interpretation has a certain kernel of truth, but each is also seriously flawed and incomplete. Barack Obama does in fact have an overarching foreign policy strategy, going back several years in spite of recent upheavals, but its basic organizing principle is neither engagement, nor intervention, nor insolvency, nor realism per se. The centerpiece of Obama’s overall foreign policy strategy is the concept of accommodation. Specifically, the president believes that international rivalries can be accommodated by American example and by his own integrative personal leadership. The problem is not that Obama has no grand strategy. The problem is that it is not working.

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