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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/17/09

Overcoming Pottery Barn Foreign Policy

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After six months as President, Barack Obama has put his own imprint on US foreign policy. That's fortunate because George Bush broke everything he touched.

Obama is collaborative; Bush was confrontational. Drawing upon his experience as a community organizer, Obama looks for areas of agreement between the interests of the United States and those of other nations. "The United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences."

Bush's signature foreign policy doctrine was preemptive war. "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Bush's "axis of evil" speech led to the invasion of Iraq and, if that war had played out as expected, would have resulted in the invasion of Iran and other military adventures.

Obama is a realist; Bush was an idealist. Over the past few decades, Democrats have been accused of quixotic foreign policy subscribing to the "one world, one global community" philosophy while Republicans have been pragmatic Henry Kissinger introduced the concept of realpolitik to Richard Nixon, leading to the normalization of relations with China. However, the Bush Administration returned to cold-war politics based upon dogmatic ideology: US military prowess would produce free markets inexorably followed by capitalism and Christianity.

Now it's Barack Obama who champions realpolitik, who has emerged as the pragmatic diplomat. Obama has kept the door open to Iran, as he seeks to build a coalition of containment that includes Russia and China.

Obama is a globalist; Bush was a nationalist. Obama sees the US as a powerful player in a complex world; Bush saw America as the leader in a global crusade. Driven by his conservative Christianity, Dubya viewed the world through the prism of good versus evil, "you are either with us or against us." Because of his rigid perspective, Bush wouldn't have countenanced continued diplomacy with Iran after June's election turmoil.

Obama sees a world of overlapping spheres of influence: military, business, and social. US military interests require that we collaborate with other nations to combat terrorism and control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Our business interests require that we regulate trade and oversee the global economy, make sure that poor nations participate. US social interests require that we encourage the development of civil society everywhere, while we cooperate to control the spread of infectious diseases and respond to the crisis of global warming.

Bush viewed America as a fortress where barbarians were hammering at our gates. Therefore, his foreign policy perspective was simplistic: America needs to remain the world's preeminent military power to maintain our security. Dubya had little interest in global commerce and social problems. When questioned he'd invariably respond that they would be dealt with by "the market."

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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