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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s ‘Progressive Pragmatism’ on Foreign Policy Should Prove a Campaign Asset

The “bin Laden is dead, and GM is Alive” bumper sticker is not a bad short slogan for the president’s re-election campaign in terms of reminding the general public. But it’s also good to know that his foreign policy record has earned the respect of credible experts.
Dems looking to get up to speed on the President’s foreign policy achievements should read “Obama as progressive pragmatist,” by Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal and Michael O’Hanlon at Politico. The authors, top Brookings international affairs advisors and co-authors of “Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy,” offer insightful observations Dems can leverage, among them:

…On balance, Obama has proved tough, disciplined and, overall, reasonably successful in addressing the nation’s immediate security challenges. One might call him a reluctant realist: Holding onto his idealistic visions and pursuing them where possible but adroitly shifting to tougher measures when necessary.
…He has been disciplined and pragmatic — keeping Robert Gates, President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, at the Pentagon, for example; and hiring his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, at the State Department; working closely with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other top economic officials to cope with the urgency of the global financial crisis on taking office; tripling combat forces in Afghanistan; keeping U.S. troops in Iraq 20 months longer than originally promised; “rebalancing” toward Asia to reassure the region that the United States is reliable; and remaining resolute in the pursuit of terrorist leaders like the now late Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
In other words, Obama is a pragmatist. A progressive one, to be sure — since he sought, where possible, to make inroads in the pursuit of his bigger hopes. But a pragmatist just the same — and a hawkish one in many ways.

Not all Democrats like President Obama’s extended stay in Afghanistan, nor his retaining Geithner. But it’s hard to deny that his foreign policy is meeting with success overall. Further, despite current conflicts, the authors argue that “the threats to U.S. interests have been contained to date, and Obama has successfully mobilized other key countries, beyond a tight circle of allies, to increase pressure dramatically on Tehran as well as Pyongyang.” They also credit the President with “returning to diplomacy and countering the perception of Washington as prone to knee-jerk military interventionism.”
The President, unlike his predecessor, has avoided disaster, particularly regarding challenges associated with North Korea and Iran, and there is no reason to think that his adversaries could do any better. As the authors conclude, “…On balance, this president possesses an effective, even fairly strong, foreign policy track record to date — very different and far better than his Republican opponents are painting in their presidential campaigns.”

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