Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Obama Was Not a Realist President

| April 7, 2016

If he had been, he might have avoided some of his biggest foreign-policy mistakes.

Barack Obama is in the homestretch of his presidency, and it is only human for him to care about how he will be judged after he leaves office. That impulse probably explains his decision to participate in a series of interviews with the Atlantic in which he defends his approach to foreign policy and explains why he has been reluctant to use American power as widely as his critics would have liked.

Not surprisingly, this story has rekindled the recurring question of whether Obama has been running a "realist" foreign policy for the past seven-plus years — or at least one heavily informed by realist thinking. (One of our country's sillier pundits once suggested I was the secret George Kennan guiding his actions; anyone who reads this column regularly knows that U.S. foreign policy would have been markedly different if that were in fact the case.)

I understand why many people regard Obama as some sort of realist, but from where I sit, the nonrealist dimensions of his presidency are as prominent and important as any realist elements. And it is those nonrealist features that account for his most obvious foreign-policy failures...

Continue reading (log in may be required):

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M..“Obama Was Not a Realist President.” Foreign Policy, April 7, 2016.

The Author

Stephen Walt