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Obama Channels Eisenhower

Richard’s post nicely highlighted a tension in last night’s speech that struck me as well, but I think that the pull toward realism was far, far greater than the pull in the other direction. I was most forcefully struck by this sentence: “As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.”

That is perhaps the most starkly expressed realist sentiment that I can remember hearing from a president since … well, I’m honestly not sure when. And Obama then followed it up by citing Eisenhower, who was really the last president to worry publicly about the balance between our commitments abroad and our ability to pay for them. He was concerned about what Walter Lippmann termed “solvency,” when he wrote in 1943 that "foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” (Check out Peter Beinart’s piece on this from earlier this year.)

Granted, there are a lot of “realists” who will not be pleased by such a massive troop commitment—and, contra Richard, I do think it is possible to pursue an “enlightened realism” that retains a firm commitment to human rights—but Obama’s relatively narrow definition of our goals in Afghanistan, combined with his conspicuous concern about the limits of American resources, have me thinking that the administration’s worldview may be coming into focus.