Can Obama Save Us?

by , February 05, 2008

The endorsement of Barack Obama by MoveOn.org, the progressive antiwar group that represents what remains of the left wing of the Democratic Party, is perfectly understandable. After all, what’s an antiwar Democrat to do these days? The party has consistently voted to give George W. Bush all the money he needs to prosecute a war they ostensibly oppose. Furthermore, Bush has resisted all attempts to rein his war policy in by attaching conditions to the funding, and the Lieberman wing of the party has effectively blocked the base from imposing its will on the party’s leaders. So how can Democrats vote their conscience? Yes, that’s right, you got it: by pulling the lever for Obama.

Of course, it isn’t really the case that Obama is antiwar: he may be anti this war – that is, the Iraq war – but one can easily see him sending troops to, say, Pakistan, as he once threatened to, or even Africa, in order to help out his Kenyan friends. Another Kosovo-style “humanitarian” intervention in any of a number of the world’s trouble spots is hardly out of the question with Obama in the Oval Office.

Yet elections are all about comparisons, and, compared to his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama is the antiwar candidate – which tells us everything we need to know about the Democratic Party, otherwise known as the other wing of the War Party. The Hollywood debate made this comparison shopping all the more necessary when it came time for Hillary to defend her vote to authorize the Iraq war – which she did, albeit incoherently. Obama took out after her and did quite an effective job of summarizing what is wrong with the prospect of her going up against John McCain:

“I don’t want to belabor this because I know we’re running out of time, and I’m sure you guys want to move on to some other stuff. But I do have to just say this: The legislation, the authorization, had the title An Authorization to Use Military Force, U.S. Military Force, in Iraq. I think everybody, the day after that vote was taken, understood, this was a vote potentially to go to war. I think people were very clear about that, if you look at the headlines.”

Oh, but Hillary claims she was just “trying to get the inspectors in” – besides which, she was “misled,” the authority Congress granted the president was “abused,” and, after all, it wasn’t all that clear at the time what was going on in Iraq:

“Some people now think that this was a very clear, open-and-shut case. We bombed them for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors. We had evidence that they had a lot of bad stuff for a very long time, which we discovered after the first Gulf War. Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do. So I think I made a reasoned judgment.”

This is all wrong: the bombing of Iraq by the Clinton administration was just as wrongheaded, cruel, and unnecessary as the Bush invasion, because, as Hans Blix, former chief of the UN weapons inspection team, put it, the Iraqis “destroyed all, almost, of what they had in the summer of 1991.” In an interview with the BBC, Jafar Dhia Jafar, who ran Iraq’s nuclear program for some 25 years, said the inspections regime made the program impossible to implement, and chemical and bio-weapons, as well as the nascent nuclear effort, were dismantled in 1991.

If “we had evidence that they had a lot of bad stuff for a very long time,” then what Hillary is talking about is “bad stuff” that was destroyed seven years before her rotten husband rained death on the Iraqi people. The inspectors weren’t “kicked out” – they were withdrawn at the insistence of Bill, who had been planning the bombing of Iraq for months, as Stephen Zunes points out here. And don’t forget that the bombing began the day the full House was to begin debating the articles of impeachment…

How Hillary could get up there and say what she said with a straight face is hard to fathom for us ordinary folks, who don’t obsess 24/7 about ways to gain, expand, and consolidate our power. That icy visage and frigid persona contains enough power lust to melt the icecaps, however: to her and her kind, including her husband, lying is second nature, and they’ll do it – convincingly – while looking straight into the camera in full sight of millions.

What may have given her the confidence to lie with more conviction than she might otherwise have mustered, however, is the certainty that Obama would never call her on it. Is he really going to get up there, in front of an audience of Democratic loyalists, and denounce Bill for having been complicit in the crimes of Bush and the neocons? That would have gone over like a lead balloon, precisely because it’s true. The Iraq Liberation Act, the enabling legislation that unleashed the dogs of war, was drafted by the Clinton administration and supported by the Democratic leadership in Congress.

In spite of Bill Clinton’s recent attempt to revise his own history in this regard, he endorsed the war in an interview with Time magazine, during the publicity blitz for his memoir, My Life, in the summer of 2004: “I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the Left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the UN inspections were over.” Clinton bought into the “weapons of mass destruction” angle and averred that after 9/11, the president had no choice but to make sure that such weapons stayed out of al-Qaeda’s hands. “That’s why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for.” Unaccounted for – albeit destroyed – because, as president, Bill pulled the inspectors out to make way for his impeachment-inspired bombing.

I have to say that I am surprised and delighted to see that Obama is framing the Iraq question in terms of the coming conflict with Iran. He is alert to the danger, and he is also good on “mission creep,” which is a good term to introduce – or reintroduce. But I was especially impressed with his call for a fundamental reevaluation of our foreign policy stance:

“I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place. That’s the kind of leadership I intend to provide as president of the United States.”

Will Obama deliver? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

You’ll note how, earlier in his remarks, he framed his dissent from the Iraq war in terms of the urgency of pressing problems elsewhere: Pakistan, which he once said we might have to invade, was specified, along with our “neglect” of Latin America. “China,” he breathlessly confided, “is strengthening” – probably because they’re investing their money in productive enterprises rather than a lot of costly imperial pretensions.

Translation: There’s trouble in our other provinces. We’re in danger of losing our empire. Iraq is an unhealthy and costly obsession; let’s pull in and conserve our resources.

This does not amount to a fundamental reappraisal of our basic foreign policy stance, but it is enough of a revision to satisfy anyone who is, like me, hungry for some sign of change in our disastrous foreign policy. It is a policy that is not only discrediting us but also bankrupting us, even as it rationalizes and sets the stage for the most serious assault on our constitutional form of government since the Civil War. If Obama can stop our forced march along this path, and even turn us around, then that alone makes him worth supporting – but, as I said, I wouldn’t put much faith in this possibility. I see no attempt on his part to articulate a comprehensive critique of American foreign policy, never mind challenge the conventional wisdom of the past 50 years.

Obama’s advisers are culled from the Clinton administration, and his campaign is claiming to be more Clintonian than Hillary’s when it comes to foreign policy. Indeed, we’ll probably see more “humanitarian” interventions with Obama as commander in chief. It’s the same old gang of Washington policy wonks who make up his foreign policy advisory team, aptly described by former Bush administration official Philip Zelikow: “These are not outsiders trying to tear down the temple. If you guess that he’s surrounded himself with people who are highly ideological, left-wing, or dovish, you would guess wrong.”

Number-one influential adviser: Samantha Power, whose book on why America ought to go around the world preventing “genocide” is a bestseller among the do-gooder set. According to her lights, we didn’t intervene in the Balkans quickly enough, or for the right reasons, and we should have been at least knee-deep in Darfur by now. That’s what “the audacity of hope” is all about when it comes to setting America on a new foreign policy course – but there’s not much new about it.

Obama will gladly ride the antiwar wave – in an election that wasn’t supposed to be about the war, at least according to our chattering classes – all the way to the White House. Whether he’ll deliver is another matter altogether. I tend to think not. Yet I’m glad to see that the war is, again, coming to the fore in this election – and that the antiwar Democratic base is not dead by any means. The MoveOn.org endorsement makes sense, in the context of their generally “progressive” orientation; however, their agenda is a lot broader than my own single-issue focus. They’re willing to compromise on the foreign policy front for some kind of government-subsidized healthcare system, for example, and I’m not. And what I see coming down the pike with Obama is more of the same old interventionist tripe that has been disproved, discredited, and disgraced so many times before, yet keeps coming back at us.

Yes, the people cry out for “Change!” When it comes to foreign policy, however, it looks like President Obama’s would remind us of that old adage about how the more things change the more they remain the same.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

My latest piece in The American Conservative is a look at the evolution of John McCain’s foreign policy views. Check out the whole issue: it’s their special anti-McCain broadside.

I’m blogging away over at Taki’s Top Drawer, so do drop by.

And don’t forget: via Amazon.com, you can pre-order the new edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, out in May.

Read more by Justin Raimondo