What's The Big Idea?

How Obama Is Like George H.W. Bush on Foreign Policy

By Carlos Lozada
Sunday, May 17, 2009

His hero? Lincoln. His challenges? FDR-like. His speeches? Downright Reaganesque, we're told. But when it comes to foreign policy, who knew Obama would emulate George Bush? No, not the son, but the kinder and gentler one: George H.W. Bush.

So argued Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a talk Thursday at the New America Foundation. As he discussed his memoir, "War of Necessity, War of Choice," Haass was asked why the "realist" approach he shared with Bush's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft had lost out to lofty visions of America's ability to transform the world. His answer suggests sober expectations for Obama -- and that the era of idealism in U.S. foreign policy is over.

"This is a pretty good time for us realists," Haass said. "Indeed, the foreign policy of the Obama administration resembles nothing so much as the foreign policy of Bush 41."

Haass pointed to Afghanistan, where Obama isn't offering grand democratic ambitions but is focusing on battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban. And in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear "that we were not going to press the Chinese publicly on matters of human rights," Haass said.

"This is, to me, a rebirth of realism," he concluded, "and it's the natural reaction, I believe, to the overly interventionist and the attempts at a transformational foreign policy of the 43rd president."

So, does father know best, after all?

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