Daniel W. Drezner

Deconstructing the foreign policy implications of the inaugural address

Deconstructing the foreign policy implications of the inaugural address

Over at Democracy Arsenal, former speechwriter Heather Hurlburt offers her reading of the foreign policy tea leaves in Obama’s inaugural address.  It’s worth checking out. 

My take away point (which matches Kevin Drum’s) is the contrast between Obama’s approach to states that disagree with American foreign policy rogue states and to terrorist groups. Here’s what he said about the latter: 

[F]or those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. 

As both Heather and noted foreign policy wonk Jon Stewart point out, that part sounds familiar. 

As to the former, the message was somewhat different:

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. 

Now, this is a different tone.  With terrorists, Obama shows no signs of compromise.  With states, however, the tone of the speech shifts to one of sadness couched with an offer of reconciliation.  It is decidedly not confrontational, nor does it suggest any kind of aggressive American action. 

Whether these governments will accept such a tentative olive branch — or at least agree to let bygones be bygones — remains an open question.  Though I have no doubt my commenters can provide provisional answers.