Monday, August 22, 2011
Walter Russell Mead makes an argument about Barack Obama's Middle East policy that is seemingly calculated to drive almost everybody nuts:
Neither President Obama’s critics nor his defenders really want to look at this situation straight on. His critics would have to acknowledge that far from capitulating to our enemies and giving away the store, President Obama has in some respects improved America’s regional position. But his defenders must also squirm; in general, President Obama succeeds where he adopts or modifies the policies of the Bush administration. Where (as on Israel) he has tried to deviate, his troubles begin.
The most irritating argument anyone could make in American politics is that President Obama, precisely because he seems so liberal, so vacillating, so nice, is a more effective neoconservative than President Bush. As is often the case, the argument is so irritating partly because it is so true.
President Obama is pushing a democracy agenda in the Middle East that is as aggressive as President Bush’s; he adopts regime change by violence if necessary as a core component of his regional approach and, to put it mildly, he is not afraid to bomb. But where President Bush’s tough guy posture (“Bring ‘Em On!”) alienated opinion abroad and among liberals at home, President Obama’s reluctant warrior stance makes it easier for others to work with him.
True I think. All of which will cause liberal interventionism to return to its pre-Bush roots in the Democratic party.
Release the hounds.
I scoff at that last paragraph: Mead just made up that part about Obama pushing Democracy. There is zero evidence to support his assertion, at least that i am aware of, and lots of scathing references on the Won's part to the Bush policy. In practice has Obama ever once argued explicitly in favor of Democracy as the basis of government in Egypt, Syria or Libya?
Other than that point, I can agree with much of what he says, except that Obama is being given too much credit (by implication) for policy conviction that I don't believe he has. I think he acts as he does so that GOP opponents can't argue that he's been soft on the country's enemies. If he has any convictions at all in the area of military adventurism I'm not aware of what they might be. That's a quibble though, I admit, and i believe Meads basic point (that Obama has been Bush 2.0) is true.
Obama may act this way because he is now receiving security briefings every day. That may focus the mind some ;-)
Neoconservatism always did have that borrowing from liberalism of intervening to rescue other countries and make the world a better place. It's the part that paleos and libertarians always objected to. Defense, sure. And that can be stretched quite a ways conceptually for the safety of the American people. But the cost-benefit analysis is supposed to become pretty severe when we are talking about nation-building.
So Obama being drawn reluctantly into the same actions - I think about 50% of the time, not 90, as Mead implies - doesn't seem that odd.
I find this extremely unpersuasive. Actually, I hate it.
'America's standing in the Middle East is better than ever!'
'Why?' I ask.
'Because it is!'
Or rather, he says "With the NATO countries including Turkey on the one hand, and the support of key Arab countries on the other, the United States (when wisely guided) is if anything more powerful now in the region than at any time ever."
Which is a non-sequitur. None of the NATO countries, except for Turkey, is a Middle Eastern power. All of these countries were in NATO 10 years ago. The US had the friendship of all the same Arab countries 10 years ago, minus Iraq (whose friendship is qualified and of limited value until they finally settle down), and plus Egypt. Hardly a change, and a reasonable person could conclude that our position has worsened slightly, given our bad relations with Saudi Arabia, loss of Egypt and Tunis as regional allies, and collapse of finances.
But he doesn't actually explain any of this, or argue for the opposite interpretation. He simply asserts that this state of affairs makes the US super-strong in the Middle East and runs with it.
And this: "President Obama is pushing a democracy agenda in the Middle East that is as aggressive as President Bush’s; he adopts regime change by violence if necessary as a core component of his regional approach and, to put it mildly, he is not afraid to bomb."
Core component? Is this guy on drugs? Or is he part of this come-lately conspiracy to dump praise on Obama for the half-assed and badly executed effort to unseat Qaddafi, an effort in which he refused to participate until the Europeans literally came begging?
This was the same President who pointedly and deliberately refused to even speak in favor of the 2009 Iranian democratic uprising. Remember that? Apparently, Mr. Meade does not. This is also the same President who spent months ignoring massacres in Syria before finally being convinced (somehow) into... issuing a statement. And this is the same President who first watched in apparent apathy as a long-time US ally's position in Egypt began to fail, and then actually spoke out against him, even though the likely replacement will be a military/Islamist coalition (which immediately convinced other local dictators to shoot rather than talk; see Assad).
Three smashing victories for democracy in only a few years.
And yet now, because of the belated victory in Libya, a conflict he didn't drive which was paid for largely in Libyan blood and European arms, he's a hero of "neoconservatism?"
"neither President Obama’s friends nor his enemies want to admit it."
This is clever. It labels his salient point as a truth, and paints anyone who disagrees with it as intellectually dishonest. And by clever, I mean a dirty rhetorical trick which is hardly helpful to honest discussion.
"Obama is better than Bush at building international coalitions and managing the appearance of American policy in a contentious world. In Libya, Obama faced a constraint not dissimilar to Bush’s situation in Iraq."
This is completely untrue. In Iraq the US built and led a coalition of nations, against acerbic opposition domestically and internationally, in a conventional invasion of an Arab nation with the explicit intention of overthrowing the government and replacing it with a democratic one. The latter was an affirmative (and illegal, though it looks like Congress isn't going to litigate) response to pleas for aid from European powers already involved in an internationally popular, organic domestic rebellion against a government. The ONLY common factors are participation of some of the same governments, and the fact that the target of the action was a mean Arab leader. The politics involved, both domestic and international, (obvious example; France's participation!) and means were totally different. And none of it is attributable to Obama's supposed sorcerous powers of influence. They're simply different situations.
"He has also cut the legs off the anti-war movements at home by depriving it of a clear target."
It was never an 'anti-war' movement. It was an anti-Bush movement. Ascribing its disappearance (which seems to have occurred circa January 2009) to some sort of unexplained, mythical action by Obama, and then praising him for it, is absurd.
"When was the last time you read something about Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo?"
Evidence of a double standard, not Obama sorcery. See 'anti-war movement' above, cross-ref: 'anti-assassination protesters,' 'PATRIOT Act/civil rights protesters.'
I can't finish this. It's painful. Sometimes this guy writes good stuff. I own his book, God and Gold. But this isn't that. That book has facts in it. This is a series of assertions, supported by convenient assumptions and more assertions, many of which are contradictory to facts. Which is probably why there are so few facts in the piece.
I was in heavy correspondence with two liberal college friends during the 2008 election. They were big fans of Obama -- and were anti-Bush -- because of Iraq: "Obama will intelligently get us out as stupidly as Bush got us in".
I told them that if elected (1) Obama would be a Domestic President With Agenda, and (2) on Iraq-Afghanistan he would be at least as Bush-like as McCain would be because Obama would want to avoid criticism from the Right so he could better pursue #1. This wasn't that hard to foresee. As to #2, before he started running for the Presidency the only anti-War thing that Obama had done was to give one obscure speech at one anti-war rally. As to #1, once a community organizer, always a community organizer.
With Obama what we've actually gotten in the Middel East is (1) a wind-down of Iraq that's been no faster than what McCain would have done, (2) an expansion in Afghanistan because Obama got rolled by his generals, (3) a more isolated. threathened and justifiably paranoid Israel, (4) oddball responses to Middle Eastern revolts that actually started over food riots driven by Ben Bernanke-exported inflation, and (5) a dead bin Laden, finally.
There's a lot of "psychological projection" coming from the left on a lot of things. Hence statements like "neither President Obama’s friends ... want to admit it." My friends, like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, were had. My friends would admit it, if they were pressed. But Keith and Rachel are too smart to be had.. aren't they.