Conor Friedersdorf rightly objects to describing Obama’s foreign policy as “limited and realistic”:
At present, American foreign policy is among the most aggressive in the world. A great many learned critics regard the national-security goals pursued under Bush and Obama to be insufficiently limited and wildly unrealistic. In writing about politics, it may seem accurate to characterize Obama as a restrained realist, since his GOP critics are determined to criticize him with bellicose rhetoric and distortions of his record that accord with the stereotype that Democrats are weak.
But it is not accurate. And it puts us at risk of completely losing touch with both reality and the way that much of the world perceives our foreign policy, even under Obama: as imprudently bellicose.
Conor doesn’t need to hedge in that first sentence. Ours is the most aggressive foreign policy in the world by several orders of magnitude. No other government comes close in the frequency of military strikes carried out inside other countries, and no other government’s foreign policy is remotely as militarized as ours. It makes sense to describe Obama as restrained or prudent only in comparison to the most likely Republican alternatives, and even then this isn’t saying all that much. Perhaps a better way to describe Obama’s foreign policy would be “not completely reckless.”
More to the point, this was also true of Obama during the 2008 election. He has been and continues to be a believer in the necessity and desirability of U.S. hegemony. Other than the Iraq war, there is no foreign war in modern times that he has ever opposed. He still believes that global interdependence makes everyone else’s problems ours. This is the same Obama who said the following five years ago: “In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” This is nonsense, but it is nonsense that Obama and many hawks on both left and right accept as true.
More disturbing than inaccurately describing Obama’s record is the underlying assumption that Bush-era foreign policy was a fluke not to be repeated when there are many major continuities between the two administrations. If the Bush administration record can be written off as something unusual, it makes it much easier for foreign policy “centrists” to pursue many of the same kinds of misguided policies that Bush pursued. It seems clear enough that many significant aspects of Bush’s foreign policy and national security are not only still around but have been institutionalized and accepted as normal by much of the political class.