Obama as Wilson:
Playing the Historical Analogy Game

A drone war that takes out old ladies in the name of “fighting terrorism” — a “regime change” campaign that plays with the fate of millions — a President supposedly committed to “transparency” who has topped the unprecedented secrecy and authoritarianism of his predecessor — a foreign policy that subsidizes and blindly supports a racist apartheid-style ally who brazenly spies on us, periodically invades its neighbors, and then demands more subsidies — and a brain-dead “left” that cheers it all as “progressive.”

This is America in the year 2012, Anno Domini. Sickening, isn’t it?

A more pertinent question, however, is how did we come to this pass? In as few words as possible: the Obama cult.

With the President’s near-landslide victory, and the triumphalist mood of the progressive elements of his coalition, the old-fashioned liberal attachment to a foreign policy of peace has been thrown overboard, while liberal Democrats exult in projecting American military power abroad.

Such is the power of the Obama cult, which mystifies its Maximum Leader as some kind of “transformational” figure in American politics, the grandiosity of which has no precedent except in the old-style Stalinist regimes of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. Indeed, the paeans of the President’s most fervent supporters bear an uncanny — and unseemly — resemblance to the rhetorical style of North Korean regime propagandists, who regularly infuse their praise of the ruler with historical and even mystical allusions.

Ignore the media hype likening Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln, a propaganda campaign that includes a major motion picture and countless Lincolnian allusions in the “mainstream” media: the only resemblance is height, fealty to big corporate interests, and a certain saturnine look. In our facile society, where politics and celebrity are virtually indistinguishable, this is enough to conjure a typically vapid historical analogy.

Of course, the Lincoln meme was preceded, you’ll recall, by a similarly ridiculous identification with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is useless to remind these people that Lincoln and Roosevelt had to deal, respectively, with a civil war and a great depression coupled with a world war: fawning pundits rarely deal in facts.

When will progressives wake up and smell the Wilsonian coffee?

If President Obama goes down in history as the incarnation of one of his distinguished predecessors, it will likely turn out to be the 28th president of these United States, whose name has become a byword for preening self-righteous interventionism on a global scale. I refer, of course, to Thomas Woodrow Wilson, a towering icon of “progressive” liberalism who dragged us into a war that was the downfall of European civilization.

There is already a suspicion of this in some progressive circles. Stephen Walt, writing on his Foreign Policy blog, complains the ascension of Susan Rice to lord it over Foggy Bottom will lead to a lack of “diversity” within our foreign policy councils. To the average progressive, who thinks almost exclusively in terms of identity politics, this seems like a strangely inverted way of looking at things. That Walt means intellectual diversity is beyond their comprehension.

Walt is nervous because most of the “realists” have left: he fears the Obama administration is “narrowing” its policy horizons in its second term. He also makes what I consider an ancillary argument: that, unlike Hillary Clinton, Rice lacks an “independent power base,” which is supposedly the main reason this “narrowing” is likely to occur. The problem, avers Walt, is Rice will tell the President what he wants to hear — but what is that, exactly? Walt never tells us, perhaps because he is unclear on the matter.

In any case, Walt misconstrues Rice as a mere campaign apparatchik, ignores her ties to the Clinton administration, and never mentions her history as a protégé of Madeleine Albright. Furthermore, he is silent on her prominent role in the Libyan intervention as one of the Three Horsewomen of the Humanitarian Apocalypse: it was Rice, along with Clinton and Samantha Power, who nagged the President to let loose the dogs of war. None of this is particularly surprising: after all, Rice rose up through the ranks of the foreign policy establishment as a star student of what Walter Russell Meade characterizes as the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy, and it is Meade who, in noting Walt’s discomfort, actually names what Walt spends an entire blog post evading:

As the President and his staff gear up for a second term, American foreign policy seems to be making a shift. The Obama administration is moving from a realist, in some ways Jeffersonian approach to foreign policy—limiting commitments, looking for compromise solutions with opponents regardless of ideology—to something more Wilsonian: giving democracy promotion and human rights a higher profile in the national security portfolio.”

Whatever “Jeffersonian” tendencies once existed in this administration have long since been expunged or driven underground. While the President had some use for them when extricating himself from his predecessor’s follies, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that usefulness has since expired. By the way, the Afghan issue is by no means settled, especially with the news that the occupation will continue well after 2014.

Libya was the turning point, and from here on in the liberal internationalists are in charge. Their “multicultural” approach will broaden the scope of US military and political intervention, extending the Empire into Africa and escalating the drive to achieve American hegemony in the Gulf. The “Pacific pivot” is a key component of this hegemonic military and diplomatic strategy, a risky and provocative course that requires the reinvention of Japanese militarism and — shades of the Vietnam era! — a revived Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) as an anti-Chinese bulwark in the South Pacific.

This time, however, the focus has moved north — and the stakes are much higher. Nuclear-armed and dangerously unstable North Korea is the powder-keg of East Asia, just as the Balkans played that fateful role in the run up to World War I.

The Chinese leadership no doubt is looking on with growing nervousness as the US executes its “Pacific pivot” and American politicians in both parties take turns bashing China as the all-purpose international villain and number one cause of American decline. Riven by internal tensions and an increasingly restive population, China is surrounded on all sides by claimants to its historic borders. The Japanese in the north, the Philippines to the southeast, and the Vietnamese in the south, all with conflicting claims to the South China Sea, threatening Beijing with encirclement. The flashpoint of these seething regional tensions is North Korea, the wild card in Washington’s emerging cold war with Beijing.

Rice’s confirmation would present a non-white face to Africa and East Asia, the next targets of an ambitious expansionist project originated in the Bush years and in many respects escalated in the age of Obama. If Meade is right, and Walt’s worst suspicions are confirmed, then what we are in for in Obama’s second term is Wilsonianism-plus, executed with “multicultural” flair.

Are we ready for another war to “make the world safe for democracy” — or perhaps more than one such war?

As far as the liberal punditocracy and the corporate-run media outlets that employ them are concerned, the answer is indubitably yes. Their taste for “humanitarian” militarism was confirmed long ago, during the Kosovo war. That the KLA was little more than a gang of US taxpayer-funded Albanian mafia dons mattered as little then as the al-Qaeda-ish sympathies of those Libyan “freedom fighters” we funded, trained, and installed in power count for much today. It’s the same gang pursuing the same morally corrupt and tragically counterproductive course, a policy trajectory which has led to a whole series of unjustified and costly wars.

On the other hand, the spirit of the old anti-imperialist left is not entirely dead. As that Villaraigosa Moment at the Democratic party convention vividly dramatized, the anti-interventionist spirit of Eugene McCarthy lingers on, as does the older tradition of left-wing “Jeffersonian” opposition to our bipartisan policy of global meddling.

Antiwar.com is one of the last bastions of that strand of left-Jeffersonian thought. Although I fear my tone is too elegiac — I hope and work for a revival of that movement — I’m very much afraid it is seriously on the wane. With the death of our former columnist Alexander Cockburn, my biggest fear is that we shall not see its — or his — like again.

Given what we have to work with, Antiwar.com is doing its level best to keep that tradition alive and kicking — but we can’t do it without your help. The near-demise of the old anti-imperialist left has left a great yawning vacuum in what used to be called the antiwar movement.

Seduced by identity politics, and blinded by partisan fealty, the left has fused with the Obama cult — although we hope to see small fissures expand in the President’s second term. And we’re doing our best to widen those fissures, in the Cockburnian tradition, by which I mean with a complete disregard for the traditional “left-right” baloney. Aside from registering his uproarious dissent from leftist orthodoxy in other matters, Cockburn was eager to cross ideological lines in a common struggle against the Empire. Against Trotskyite builders of sects, and white-wine-and-brie limousine liberals who hate conservatives more than they hate war, Cockburn fought for a united left-right front against the War Party.

We are working to build just such an alliance — of liberals temperamentally opposed to war, and of conservatives increasingly skeptical of the interventionist project in general — but we can’t continue our work if we can’t pay the bills. And that is just what it has come to.

The desertion of the “progressives,” and their defection to the Obama cult, is no doubt a major factor in the so far disappointing results of our winter fundraising drive. We don’t have eccentric billionaires of the left or right funding our operation — and yet we manage to reach millions every year, around the globe, with our message of peace. We’ve been able to do it because of people like you, our readers and supporters, who have generously contributed to Antiwar.com over the years.

This year, however, we appear to have run over a speed bump, in large part I believe due to the reelection of Obama and the Grand Bargain the once-anti-interventionist liberals made with the Democratic party.

The terms of that deal, in short: deliver on the liberal domestic agenda, and we’ll shut up when it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties. The President’s successful campaign was entirely dependent on the progressives keeping their part of the bargain, and no doubt their complicity will continue well into his second term.

In any bargain, each party thinks they’re getting something for relatively nothing: that’s why they call it selling out. The sell-out of the limousine liberals on the vital question of war and peace is hitting Antiwar.com where it hurts — but it doesn’t have to hurt quite so much.

You can help us revive the spirit of the Real Left, and — while we’re at it — reawaken the American spirit of opposition to a foreign policy based on domination: a dissent shared by many conservatives in Obama’s America. Your tax-deductible donation ensures that the flame of peace and liberty never goes out.

There are some strong winds blowing that make our fundraising efforts all the more difficult. The economy is bad and — no matter what they tell you — getting worse. Times are tough, and donations to nonprofits like us — as opposed to the big corporate nonprofits — are hard hit. Please help us survive these storm winds — make your tax-deductible contribution today.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].