I was struck by how frequently Obama referenced pragmatism in the March foreign policy address -- five times! While Obama mentioned "reality" several times, he never used the word "realism" in this speech. Indeed, his all-American pragmatism surely suggests something different from realism -- emphasizing the commonsensical, practical and empirical, while downplaying both power and ideology.
The first two references to pragmatism come in consecutive paragraphs near the beginning of the speech -- prior to explaining the flaws of the overall Iraq strategy (even if "the surge" was a successful military tactic). Essentially, Obama contrasts his own pragmatism to George W. Bush's ideological foreign policy judgment in the case of Iraq:
History will catalog the reasons why we waged a war that didn't need to be fought, but two stand out. In 2002, when the fateful decisions about Iraq were made, there was a President for whom ideology overrode pragmatism, and there were too many politicians in Washington who spent too little time reading the intelligence reports, and too much time reading public opinion. The lesson of Iraq is that when we are making decisions about matters as grave as war, we need a policy rooted in reason and facts, not ideology and politics.Obama's next two references to pragmatism appear in the middle of the speech, in consecutive paragraphs about U.S. policy toward Pakistan and al Qaeda:
Now we are debating who should be our next Commander in Chief. I am running for President because it's time to turn the page on a failed ideology and a fundamentally flawed political strategy, so that we can make pragmatic judgments to keep our country safe. That's what I did when I stood up and opposed this war from the start, and said that we needed to finish the fight against al Qaeda.
If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot. Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all distorted and derided this position, suggesting that I would invade or bomb Pakistan. This is politics, pure and simple. My position, in fact, is the same pragmatic policy that all three of them have belatedly - if tacitly - acknowledged is one we should pursue. Indeed, it was months after I called for this policy that a top al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft. And remember that the same three individuals who now criticize me for supporting a targeted strike on the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, are the same three individuals that supported an invasion of Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.The last reference to pragmatism appears in the final line of the speech:
It is precisely this kind of political point-scoring that has opened up the security gap in this country. We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually goes. What we need in our next Commander in Chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3AM phone calls. What we need is a pragmatic strategy that focuses on fighting our real enemies, rebuilding alliances, and renewing our engagement with the world's people.
When America leads with principle and pragmatism, hope can triumph over fear. It is time, once again, for America to lead.Google the words "foreign policy pragmatism," by the way, and you get references to pragmatism in Chinese, Russian and Indian foreign policy -- as well as pragmatism employed by JFK.
I should perhaps also note that Obama again references pragmatism in the closing paragraph of his July address. In this instance, he explains George Marshall's wisdom at the beginning of the cold war:
When General Marshall first spoke about the plan that would bear his name, the rubble of Berlin had not yet been built into a wall. But Marshall knew that even the fiercest of adversaries could forge bonds of friendship founded in freedom. He had the confidence to know that the purpose and pragmatism of the American people could outlast any foe. Today, the dangers and divisions that came with the dawn of the Cold War have receded. Now, the defeat of the threats of the past has been replaced by the transnational threats of today. We know what is needed. We know what can best be done. We know what must done. Now it falls to us to act with the same sense of purpose and pragmatism as an earlier generation, to join with friends and partners to lead the world anew.Finally, in the scholarship on the democratization of international relations (and organizations), Molly Cochran has been offering pragmatism as a means superior to deliberative approaches.
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