Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Where are the Progressives in Barack Obama's foreign policy line-up?

I'm following the line of thought advanced by Dana Garrett regarding President-Elect Obama's early picks for cabinet and advisors:

Is the implication here that there are no progressives qualified to fill many of the cabinet positions?

Dana is chiefly looking at domestic appointments, but Alan Bock of the Orange Country Register [h/t AWC] makes the point that in his foreign policy appointments at State, Defense, and National Security Advisor, Barack Obama has clearly snubbed a number of strongly qualified progressive candidates who promoted non-interventionist views:

But the fact that early Iraq critics like Steve Clemons of the center-left New American Foundation and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress – not to mention Boston University army careerist-turned political science professor Andrew Bacevich – have not made any short lists suggests that Gen. Jones [as NSA] will be refereeing disputes within a rather narrow range of options. The argument won't be over whether the U.S. should intervene heavily in the rest of the world, but where it should intervene this week.

This is a reiteration of a truth about Barack Obama that somehow the media and his supporters kept missing: the man doesn't want to end American Interventionism, he just wants to do it better and for somewhat different reasons than Dubya. Bock again:

However, any hope that the new president would seriously reconsider the larger strategic policy of viewing the United States as the "indispensable nation" (Obama adviser Madeleine Albright's formulation when she was secretary of state) that must intervene hither and yon to promote stability and protect human rights (and an expansive view of American interests) is bound to be a bit disappointed. An Obama administration is more likely to use diplomacy, negotiations and "soft power" before resorting to military force than the Bush administration was. But it is likely to view as essential active American involvement in a variety of foreign disputes of varying relevance to core American interests, and Mr. Obama has explicitly declined to rule out military force as an instrument of American power....

Whatever his associations earlier in life, Barack Obama does not appear to be a radical in foreign affairs, but a fairly standard-issue liberal interventionist. Even in his antiwar speech in Chicago in 2002, Obama made clear that he was "not opposed to war in all circumstances," but that he thought the Iraq war was a stupid and ill-advised venture.

Now I know that people will immediately jump on the idea of not ruling out the use of military force as some sort of Presidential prudence--as if anybody would believe him if he said, "Of course I would never use force against Iran, even if they got nukes and blew Israel off the map."

What's at issue is the conventional American view of using military force as an absolute last option when all other options have been exhausted--James Madison's view that going to war without having been attacked represents a failure on our part--which has been supplanted during the last fifty years with the very European notion of using military force as a normative instrument of political policy ala Karl von Clausewitz.

So which have we elected to conduct US foreign policy--a disciple of Madison or von Clausewitz--a George Washington or a Bismarck?

Only time will tell, but the early appointive indicators are not comforting.


Delaware Watch said...

You forget that Obama was against entering into the Iraq war in the 1st place. That's hardly an interventionist stance. He also said that once you are in Iraq, the equation changes and the question becomes how and when you withdraw. You need to figure that into your analysis somehow in my view.

To me at a minimum the vote that the Iraqis plan on having about the occupation should be determinative of US policy.

Steven H. Newton said...

I don't forget that vote at all, but it is not prima facie evidence of a non-interventionist bent.

Obama objected to Iraq as the wrong war, not to the concept of unilateral military inteventionism which he espouses in his speeches and in The Audacity of Hope.

Delaware Watch said...

"Obama objected to Iraq as the wrong war, not to the concept of unilateral military inteventionism which he espouses in his speeches and in The Audacity of Hope."

What is wrong w/ unilateral military inteventionism if it is done as a preemptive measure against a known planned attack on the US or if it is done for human rights purposes (e.g. to stop genocide)?

As long as he doesn't adopt a preventitive stance like Bush, he's different from Bush.

Bowly said...

I don't forget that vote at all.."

Which vote? Obama wasn't in the Senate when the first Iraq war vote happened. And he's even implied that he might have voted for the war if he'd been in the Senate at the time:


When asked a similar question about his voting record last fall, by the New Yorker magazine, Obama admitted that "it's not clear to me what differences we've had since I've been in the Senate."

"I think what people might point to is our different assessments of the war in Iraq," Obama said at the time, "although I’m always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought it was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence."

So yes, he opposed the Iraq war, except for that he might have supported it had he actually been in the Senate at the time. Steve, you are far, far closer to the truth here than Dana is. But you knew that.