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Research Report

Obama:: The Reluctant Realist

Steven R. David
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2015
Pages: 53

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-4)
  2. (pp. 5-6)
  3. (pp. 7-8)
    Steven R. David
  4. (pp. 9-10)
    Steven R. David

    There is no shortage of criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, especially in Israel. The President is seen as weak, indecisive, naive, afraid to lead and fearful of using force. Most of all, many have argued, they just cannot figure him out. He seems to be constantly improvising without any ideological or intellectual compass to guide him. This failure to explain why he acts as he does and the underlying worry that Obama may not himself understand the rationale for his decisions lies at the heart of much of the unease many have for Obama, both in Israel and, for...

  5. (pp. 10-14)

    There are probably as many views of realism as there are scholars and practitioners who claim to abide by it.¹ In its simplest form, realism is an approach or theory that purports to describe the way the world behaves. Central to realism is the belief that the world today is the way it has always been and will always be. People may wish to believe that human nature can be transformed, that states will not go to war, or that the international system could somehow end its anarchic nature, but these are pipe dreams.² If humans seek to lessen the...

  6. (pp. 14-33)

    More important than what President Obama says he will do is what he actually does. Examining Obama’s record of major foreign policy decisions, it is impossible not to be struck by how well they conform with realism. Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, the handling of Iran’s nuclear program, the reaction to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, and the response to the “Arab Spring” all followed realist precepts. This is not to suggest that everything Obama has done fits neatly into the realist paradigm. Rather that, taken overall, Obama’s policies have been consistent with realism, even when he has been reluctant to follow...

  7. (pp. 33-39)

    Thus far, it appears that the overwhelming thrust of Obama’s foreign policy adheres closely to realism. This is bad news for Israel for two reasons. First, Israel remains dependent on American assistance. The United States is by far the most important ally of Israel, which relies on the U.S. for critical military and political support. Second, the main reasons why the United States has been so generous in its backing of Israel are not supported by realism. Insofar as Obama (or his successors) pursue a realist policy, therefore, Israel is in trouble.

    There is no question that Israel depends greatly...

  8. (pp. 39-41)

    With few exceptions, each of Obama’s major foreign policy decisions conformed to realist precepts. The pivot to Asia followed the realist admonition to focus one’s efforts in those areas of the world that possess the greatest military threats and economic wealth. The nuclear negotiations with Iran show the willingness to use economic sanctions to contain a dangerous adversary, but is also in conformity with the realist belief that nuclear proliferation is not a major threat (because adversaries can be deterred) and certainly not worth going to war. Also not worth a war was confronting Russia over its incursion into Ukraine...

  9. (pp. 42-50)
  10. (pp. 51-52)