Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Neocons love Obama

Obama's foreign policy speech

by Jerome a Paris

Tue May 1st, 2007 at 08:42:00 AM EDT

Barack Obama's speech on foreign policy is attracting strange supporters:

Robert Kagan: Obama the Interventionist

Andrew Sullivan: The Re-Branding of America

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Mr. Obama's Worldview - An encouraging start to talking policy

And they are quite clear as to why they love what they heard:

America must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." With those words, Barack Obama put an end to the idea that the alleged overexuberant idealism and America-centric hubris of the past six years is about to give way to a new realism, a more limited and modest view of American interests, capabilities and responsibilities.


Obama talks about "rogue nations," "hostile dictators," "muscular alliances" and maintaining "a strong nuclear deterrent." He talks about how we need to "seize" the "American moment." We must "begin the world anew." This is realism? This is a left-liberal foreign policy?

Kagan is literally gleeful. More military, more interventionism, more "values", more preemptive attacks. Sullivan is not far behind:

Obama's speech (...) is emphatically not against the use of military force when necessary; it is emphatically pro-military in its call for many more troops. On the critical issue of Iraq, Obama has taken a stand - a clear one for withdrawal, with the possibility of a strike-force over the horizon. This is a very difficult call, and the timing and execution of withdrawal will be dispositive. But one core strength of Obama's candidacy is that he got this war right when many of us got it wrong. He deserves more of a listening than many of us do.

Ditto with the Washington Post:

As an opening statement of Mr. Obama's philosophy, there is much that we found significant -- and encouraging -- in the Chicago speech. Acknowledging that "many Americans may find it tempting to turn inward" after the failures in Iraq and elsewhere, the senator quoted Franklin Roosevelt in saying the United States nevertheless must continue to "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." Mr. Obama called for a sizable increase in the size of the Army and for the reinforcement of NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said that "no president should ever hesitate to use force -- unilaterally if necessary -- to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened."

To be fair, the WaPo does see him as a bit weak, or at least uncommitted, on the War on Terror:

Still, Mr. Obama ought to explain more directly how he views jihadism. Is it an ideological challenge comparable to communism and fascism, as Mr. Bush contends, or merely an esoteric dogma held by bands of criminals, like the anarchism of the early 20th century? Is terrorism the central threat of the early 21st century, or, as some Democratic strategists argue, merely one of a panoply of challenges that include global warming, pandemics and the rise of China?

And when you read the speech, it's hard not to note the multiple references to the military, how it must be supported, increased in size, and used, preemptively if necessary (as quoted above). Even his bits about diplomacy focus on military alliances (NATO is lenghthily mentioned, but not the EU), and his examples of how the US should conduct "hearts and minds" operations in various countries are, again, run by the military.

The WaPo's note that he does not explicit his position on the "war on terra" is strange, considering that most of the places mentioned in his speech are in the Muslim world, and most of the threats seem to come from there. The only non-Muslim threat he also focuses on is loose Russian storage of nuclear material, but that's also part of the 'war on terra' - indeed, it is its signature threat, the one that has been used to justify most of the excesses of the past few years, and the attacks at home on civil rights - let us protect you from the mushroom cloud.

Basically, his proposal is to accept the goals of the George Bush administration, use the same tools, but run the policy competently and less boneheadedly. To his credit, he is not proposing that for Iraq itself, which he explicitly states the US must leave (well, except for a "few troops"), but in the wider picture, it's still about bringing democracy to others, and in particular to the Muslim world, and about having the biggest, most ass-kicking military force in the world.

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Now, in the interest of fairness, I'll add this second quote from Andrew Sullivan:

The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.

This is the hope that with a decent, competent president, things will go back to normal, the idea of the USA will shine brightly again, and it will be able once again to fulfill its international policy objectives by leading instead of by bullying.

Barck Obama says it thus:

But if the next President can restore the American people’s trust – if they know that he or she is acting with their best interests at heart, with prudence and wisdom and some measure of humility – then I believe the American people will be ready to see America lead again.

They will be ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. That we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.

That is not who we are.

The problem is that yes, this is precisely who America is today in the eyes of most of the world - whether the genuinely aghast or the hypocritically gleeful to have a kettle to hide their pot.

Finally stopping the most atrocious behaviour will not eliminate the fact that it took place, that it took place for a long time, and that it was supported by a surprisingly high proportion of the population - and an higher, and even more terrifying, proportion of the punditry, which should have known better than fall for the nasty propaganda and fearmongering of the Bush administration. These were policies of a big chunk of the elite in Washington, as kossacks all know (and despair about).

But I am also struck about Obama's description of the world as a source only of threats for America - most related to terrorism one way or another, with a nod to global warming. Opportunity is only what America can bring to the world, not the other way around. In a word, just like with the current administration, the world has only headaches to bring to the USA. Thus the need for a big army to wage two wars at the same time. Thus the need to be everywhere to engage would-be terrorists before they actually turn into ones. Thus the need to lead alliances. The methods will be different: the relevant countries will need to be convinced rather than coerced, but the only goal is still to get them aligned behind US objectives.

And yet America will not be in a position to lead until it has atoned. You don't eliminate such a stain, such a loud precedent (which many others will be all too happy to use as an excuse for their own abuses for a long time) just by not doing it anymore. The credibility to talk about values, about democracy, about cooperation, about peace - just isn't there. And talking about a stronger military, more interventionism in other countries (even of the humanitarian or modest kind), and bringing the American model back to the world is not going to work, because it is yet more meddling.

Oh, sure, the weak and weasely leaders of Europe will be all too happy to be seduced rather than bludgeoned into submission, and the 'international community' will be all too happy to pretend that adults are in charge again, and that we can all go back to normal. Cooperation between secret services. Joint military/humanitarian missions (like the failing Afghanistan occupation, maybe?). More police coordination - with more uncontrolled data swapping between governments? After all, there are still evil terrrists out there. We cannot let the guard down too much. But at least we are all defenders of human rights and democracy again, for real this time.

Nah. As the quote from Obama's speech above suggests, this is a discourse for Americans, not for the rest of the world. They don't get to elect their overlords.

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Maybe it is too much to expect anything different, and, without the Bush/Iraq precedent, the speech would be mostly uncontroversial. After all, anything less intervention-prone would be shot down as "weak", "defeatist", etc... the whole gamut of Republican smears. The fact is that political discourse is still dominated by the need to appear 'strong' and to support the military without any restriction, and by the conviction that it is America's absolutely legitimate right to intervene in any other country's affairs because it is a model for the world and if only everybody else were in its image, all would be well.

Peddling to these deep strands in America's psyche may be smart politics, but it is not going to change policy - and current policy is creating more threats by the minute, via the preference for 'might is right' logic, the refusal to contemplate any leadership by example where it matters (energy consumption and carbon emissions - Obama only talks about demanding "equal efforts" from the USA and much poorer China or India), and the bizarre need to turn a small band of nasty gangsters with grievances into an apocalyptic threat.

So yeah, I understand why the neocons love Obama. He's not really challenging the reckless policy logic they have successfully instilled in your govenrment. Getting out of Iraq is not a proof of sanity, it's just an absence of proof that you are insane or deluded or both. That this is seen as progress only goes to show how low the standards have be brought down by this administration.

Be sure to see the comments section!


Anonymous said...

Obama's 'distinctly American internationalism'

Sound familiar?

"Two months ago, at the Citadel in South Carolina, I talked about American defense. This must be the first focus of a president, because it is his first duty to the Constitution. Even in this time of pride and promise, America has determined enemies, who hate our values and resent our success – terrorists and crime syndicates and drug cartels and unbalanced dictators. The Empire has passed, but evil remains.

We must protect our homeland and our allies against missiles and terror and blackmail.

We must restore the morale of our military – squandered by shrinking resources and multiplying missions – with better training, better treatment and better pay.

And we must master the new technology of war – to extend our peaceful influence, not just across the world, but across the years." Governor George W. Bush Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Simi Valley, California November 19, 1999

You may also want to read that speech from the citadel Bush mentions. Obama's image consultants may not want to have Obama regurgitating Bush's old speeches.

Governor George W. Bush - 'A Distinctly American Internationalism'


Marc Parent mparent7777 mparent CCNWON said...

Good one, and scary, too.

"See comments" now added to the main story