“Barely a month ago, there wasn’t even a plan” for dealing with the Islamic State, reports the Washington Post. President Obama had said in August that his administration didn’t “have a strategy yet.” With bombs now blasting the bearded beheaders’ bunkers, that strategy is still nowhere to be found—the Post catalogues an impressively diverse collection of tactics, yet no overarching theme. Micah Zenko has noted that the White House doesn’t even seem to agree with itself about what it is trying to do in Syria.
We’re being reminded, in other words, that Barack Obama is not a foreign-policy realist.
That’s hardly news. Obama’s allies have been eager to stick the “realist” label on him, but the president has only appeared to be a realist if one views “realism” as some midpoint between crusading interventionism and austere isolationism rather than a distinct tradition of foreign-policy thought rooted in a distaste for ideology and emotion and a belief that power is the primary force shaping international relations. In this vein, I argued in June that Obama’s “simultaneous antagonization of both Russia and China, the only two powers who could join the capacity to thwart America with a desire to do so” betrayed a dangerous obliviousness to the balance among the great powers.