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Great Journalist Argues Obama's Break With the Foreign Policy Establishment Is Real

True or not it raises questions: How messed up US foreign policy is when even a sitting presidents will rail about it. And how come they can't find the resolve to change it

Last week I did a story on what is the most notable, but relatively overlooked, part of Obama's book-length interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. The portion where Obama tears into what he deems "the foreign policy establishment" in Washington and proclaims that he has defied it and broken free of it  especially since summer of 2013.

Now in my piece I argue the second part is not true - that this is merely Obama's attempt to whiteash his real legacy. However, the great veteran reported Gareth Porter has now penned a piece where he lends Obama's statements more credence than I.

In any case whether Obama is engaging in revisionism or not is at this time rather less important. The crucial thing is really that a sitting US President has publicly savaged the knee-jerk interventionism and moronic militarism of Washington's movers and shakers. There must be something very wrong with US foreign policy conventional wisdom indeed when even Obama will try to distance himself from it.

Read the entire Porter's piece at Consortium News, or just the choice parts below:

Obama’s Break with the Establishment

The biggest story in Jeffrey Goldberg’s 20,000-word report on “The Obama Doctrine” is President Barack Obama’s open break with the foreign policy establishment.

The critique of orthodox national security policy thinking that Obama outlined in interviews with Goldberg goes farther than anything delivered on the record by a sitting president. It showed that Obama’s view on how to define and advance U.S. “national security” diverges sharply from those of the orthodox views of national security bureaucracy and Washington foreign policy think tanks on U.S. “credibility,” the real interests the United States in the Middle East and how the United States should respond to terrorism.


In The Atlantic interviews, Obama’s harshest criticism is reserved for the cardinal rule of U.S. national security policy orthodoxy: that U.S. “credibility” for using military force must not be eroded by a failure to follow through on a threat to use it.

Obama responded to the “credibility” argument by Kerry and Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power at a White House meeting by pointing out that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”


The political threat to which Obama was referring was not merely a figment of his imagination. During his first year in office, his national security advisers had pressured him to accept a smaller and slower withdrawal from Iraq and a much larger military escalation in Afghanistan than Obama had believed justified by the facts. They had tightened the pressure by giving the mainstream news media anonymous accounts of the issue calculated to make Obama appear naive and irresolute.


Obama has also riled the foreign policy elite by renouncing its tenet of faith that the United States has vital interests in the Middle East because of its de facto – but not formal – alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Obama clearly resents the pressure on him to treat both of those “allies” with kid gloves.

Yet Obama has continued to give de facto support to those very sectarian Saudi policies in Syria and Yemen, which have destabilized those countries but which key U.S. national security officials have championed. Just last week, the New York Times revealed that John Kerry had had been the a “forceful advocate” last year of the view in that the United States should support the war the Saudis were planning to launch against Yemen, because the Saudi had questioned American “priorities” in the region in light of Obama’s negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran.


Obama’s readiness to go along with policies about which he had serious misgivings – with one signal exception (bombing Syria in 2013) – bears similarity to the political dynamic that propelled the United States into the Vietnam War. Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson said privately that South Vietnam was not worth a war, but both agreed to major steps toward war under pressure from the senior advisers, including their Secretaries of State and Defense.

The new revelations of Obama’s disenchantment with foreign policy orthodoxy on the use of force illuminate an enduring structural problem of presidents perceiving their national security officials as having the power to impose high political costs on them if their demands for war were rejected. On the other hand, Obama’s public break-up with the national security elite appears to represents a new stage in the politics of national security in which broader resistance to those powerful interests may possibly be feasible.

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