Obama is angling to be remembered as an intervention-averse maverick defying the hawkish Washington. Let's not allow him this rewriting of history
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Anti-establishment sentiment is always in vogue in the US, but never more than in 2016. Despite their long association with corridors of power in Washington no fewer than three out of four main presidential candidates, Trump, Sanders and Cruz all claim anti-establishment credentials. And so does now the sitting president Barrack Obama.
Specifically Obama claims that in his time as president of the United States he has defied the Washington foreign policy establishment. That is an utterly bizarre spin since he has actually been a uniquely weak willed President and one of the most pliant servants and enablers of said establishment, but see for yourself:
From the mammoth interview with Jeffery Goldberg for The Atlantic:
Obama generally believes that the Washington foreign-policy establishment, which he secretly disdains, makes a fetish of “credibility”—particularly the sort of credibility purchased with force.
This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
I have come to believe that, in Obama’s mind, August 30, 2013, was his liberation day, the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment and its cruise-missile playbook, but also the demands of America’s frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East—countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American “muscle” for their own narrow and sectarian ends.
In essence Obama's claim to anti-establishment credentials comes down to the fact that he declined one or two of the looniest and bellicose proposals of the people around him he had himself appointed to work for him. Specifically he turned down Samantha Power and John Kerry who in 2013 were pushing for a direct military intervention against Assad.
That is such a pathetic argument. Firstly he had gone along with the likes of Kerry, Power and Hillary Clinton on virtually everything else, and secondly it was he who brought these figures into his own administration in the first place.
Moreover he kept them there despite their uber-hawkish views and advice. Meanwhile he cynically and ungratefully got rid of the relatively decent Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel specifically because he disagreed with Obama's favorites on Syria.
If Obama had really turned against the establishment foreign policy and was "controversial" on the use of force wouldn't he have instead fired Power, or not hired her in the first place but instead surrounded himself with more figures like Hagel?
In fact how can someone "disdain" the interventionist US foreign policy establishment but not disdain Power which is its chief and most dangerous ideologue?
However, it turns out that Obama doesn't think he is a maverick so much because of what he does, but mainly because of how he feels (!) about things as he does them. It's not so much that he will defy the conventional wisdom in Washington but that he will have private qualms about it as he nonetheless follows it.
To a remarkable degree, he is willing to question why America’s enemies are its enemies, or why some of its friends are its friends. He overthrew half a century of bipartisan consensus in order to reestablish ties with Cuba. He questioned why the U.S. should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the U.S. at all. According to Leon Panetta, he has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge, which grants it access to more sophisticated weapons systems than America’s Arab allies receive; but he has also questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.
How profoundly ridiculous! What does it matters what Barrack Obama "questions" or what he is "irritated" about if those questions and irritations do not actually lead to him adjusting policies accordingly?
We note that whatever Obama's questions or irritations about Riyadh he is at this very moment enabling, assisting and supplying the horrendous Saudi war in Yemen.
In fact the revelation that deep down he really knows better only goes to show just what a servile president he really is.
Ironically the hagiography Golberg produces wants to have it both ways. Obama as the defier of the militarist establishment but also an accomplished terrorist-hunter, mechanized drone assassin and life-taker:
But once he decides that a particular challenge represents a direct national-security threat, he has shown a willingness to act unilaterally. This is one of the larger ironies of the Obama presidency: He has relentlessly questioned the efficacy of force, but he has also become the most successful terrorist-hunter in the history of the presidency, one who will hand to his successor a set of tools an accomplished assassin would envy. “He applies different standards to direct threats to the U.S.,” Ben Rhodes says. “For instance, despite his misgivings about Syria, he has not had a second thought about drones.” Some critics argue he should have had a few second thoughts about what they see as the overuse of drones. But John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, told me recently that he and the president “have similar views. One of them is that sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory. The president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage. But if he believes it is necessary to act, he doesn’t hesitate.”
That's more like it. This is the truer picture of Obama presidency.
Let's recall that Obama has killed people in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and utterly destroyed the nation of Libya and came close to repeating that feat in Syria.
Let's recall that actually the onset of his presidency meant a spike in Washington militancy as he "surged" into Afghanistan pursing a victory where it had eluded Bush which in Obama's estimation had not pursued that war hard enough and that he then gave the brutish and simpleminded Hillary Clinton free reign to break Libya into pieces.
Simply because his interventionist projects have since soured on him and he has in his final years as president developed some interventionism fatigue (exactly as had Geroge Bush before him) does not suddenly make him a defier of the interventionist establishment. It just makes him a failure.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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