Sunday, April 19, 2009

This is Realism

Realism in foreign policy is supposed to mean the equivalent of Social Darwinism: the struggle of all against all, nations red in tooth and claw. Bullshit.

President Obama is more of a realist than these knuckleheads grimacing in suits. Nations have interests, sometimes they conflict, but quite often they are best met by cooperation, conciliation and amity.

At Swampland, Michael Sherer reproduces President Obama's answer to a question asking him to define his foreign policy doctrine. It's worth reading in full (which is why he reproduced it in full) but here are some of the sentences that jumped out at me:

"Countries are going to have interests, and changes in foreign policy approaches by my administration aren't suddenly going to make all those interests that may diverge from ours disappear. What it does mean, though, is, at the margins, they are more likely to want to cooperate than not cooperate. It means that where there is resistance to a particular set of policies that we're pursuing, that resistance may turn out just to be based on old preconceptions or ideological dogmas that, when they're cleared away, it turns out that we can actually solve a problem.

And so we're still going to have very tough negotiations on a whole host of issues. In Europe, people believe in our plan for Afghanistan, but their politics are still such that it's hard for leaders to want to send more troops into Afghanistan. That's not going to change because I'm popular in Europe or leaders think that I've been respectful towards them. On the other hand, by having established those better relations, it means that among the population there's more confidence that working with the United States is beneficial, and they are going to try to do more than they might otherwise have done."

Now that's both sophisticated and simple, both well-informed and applied common sense. It's the new realism, if you like. Just as President Obama presented in his Georgetown speech--which I quoted and broke down in several posts over at Dreaming Up Daily--on the domestic economy.

Realism is seeing how things interrelate, and how the solutions to big problems may require lots of related small solutions, and sometimes the big solutions are to more that one problem (universal health care and clean energy being prime examples.)

Realism is understanding how to minimize barriers to agreements and solutions that just about everyone agrees will benefit them. Realism is seeing yourself as others see you, as well as how you want to be seen. Realism is avoiding costly and needless conflict, and resolving what can be resolved, to the benefit of all (but perhaps a few--the few who have been running things for themselves and their pals for far too long. In the guise of being realistic.)

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