Hard Power in a Soft Package: The ‘True’ Conservatism of Obama Leadership in Foreign Policy

Analyzing President Obama’s foreign policy, or rather, analyzing the intellectual and positional evolution of his global positions is no easy task. It would not be hyperbole to say Obama came into office with the hopes and dreams of millions of Democrats and perhaps even the muted optimism of many moderate Republicans. In other words, hitting everything right on the mark was likely impossible.


Barack Obama

This only makes the present analysis more interesting, for the early presidency of Obama has been marked by vicious attacks from the right, deep disappointment from the left and relative indifference from the international community. This negativity is more understandable when the main argument here is entertained: expectations have not been met in terms of foreign policy because Obama’s positions have more closely aligned with what some might call ‘true’ conservatism, something no side foresaw in 2008.

This apparent foreign policy surprise is partially the result of an interconnected process of push-and-pull: conservatives look to regain a dominant position for the future and democrats look to truly feel as if the President is one of them. This study is not so much how successfully he achieves peace between these two divergent camps, but rather how frustrating he seems to be to both for his failure to meet the stereotypical expectations of either side. One thing seems to be certain when looking at Obama foreign policy: external criticism of his positions seems to lead to a pragmatic overreaction that is more aligned with a moderate conservatism and makes him notoriously difficult to label with a broad left-leaning or right-leaning brush.

First the somber news: President Obama’s first term makes clear that there is no dawning of a new age in foreign policy development, benevolently bent on finding a ‘new means’ for dealing with 21st century conflict. Perhaps it was unfair to expect such a result, but then again it was Obama himself who seemed eager to rise to such a challenge. These ‘new means’ were meant to incorporate all of the tools and capabilities at the disposal of American might. (Obama 2007) It was Obama who boldly declared his administration would go beyond mere rhetoric and focus instead on achieving concrete results with these ‘new means.’ (Obama 2007)

Published in Journal of Global Analysis (JGA) Vol. 3  No. 1


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