The right-wing’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy has been somewhat befuddling. Mitt Romney, for example, accuses the president of “apologizing for” America—whatever that’s supposed to mean. (God only knows.) For the last three years, the administration has been very firm–yet judicious–with its approach to international affairs. Caricaturing “firm yet judicious” as WIMPY seems to be the crux of the argument leveled by the bloviators from the far-right (e.g. The Foreign Policy Initiative, The Heritage Foundation, The Weekly Standard, and the other usual suspects). Here’s why such attacks are peculiar.
The standard Neocon polemic portrays Obama as, well, a wimp. He is accused of “appeasement”—which apparently means “something short of blustering antagonism”. In other words, failing to exacerbate already volatile situations by antagonizing dysfunctional regimes is considered a bad thing. For such critics, it seems that anything less than super-patriotic jingoism, chest thumping, and saber-rattling is an exhibition of stultifying “weakness”. Therefore, the indictment is simple: Obama has somehow been insufficiently “strong” on international relations.
This is the standard claim issuing from reactionary pundits.
But reality tells a different story. We have learned that national chauvinism does not serve us well. Obama seems to have learned that vital lesson. We should lead, he noted, by the power of example, not by the example of our power. More than a catchy bumper sticker, this is actually sage counsel. Even so, Obama has been more “hawk-ish” than many of the so-called foreign policy Hawks. The difference is that he as brought a desperately-needed dose of sanity to the still-tragically-predominant American militarism. Why do I say this?
Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring bin Laden, immediately setting a course that led to the Salafi leader’s death. (And it is now quite clear that the intelligence involved in finding bin Laden had nothing whatsoever to do with the morally / legally dubious policies championed under the Bush-Cheney regime.) Instead of indulging in the simple-minded, Manichean worldview that pits the forces of “good” (by definition, American financial and military interests) against the forces of “evil” (by definition, anything that stands in the way of those interests) in some glorious, cosmic battle…the president has engaged in a discerning treatment of the geo-political environment…and made his decisions accordingly.
When the time for a decisive decision came, Obama over-ruled military advisors, his secretary of state, AND his vice president, ordering the riskiest—yet most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. The bold move was a triumph—not only in killing America’s #1 designated “bad guy”, but also in acquiring a huge stash of intelligence that will enable the U.S. to undermine al Qaeda even further.
If George W. Bush had used drone strikes to such staggering levels of efficacy, taken out bin Laden, eviscerated al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of intelligence by orchestrating a daring raid, there would now be calls from the Neocons for him to be carved on Mount Rushmore. But now that—gasp—a Democrat has done all this, he is called “timid”.
Where Bush—his adolescent swagger in full throttle—talked tough yet acted counter-productively, Obama has simply, quietly, and relentlessly decimated al Qaeda—all while faring well in the broader international PR war. Note that, since Obama took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted….even as the standing of the U.S. in the middle has marginally recovered. This alone is a significant achievement.
Under Obama, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes–taking out target after target after target of Al Qaeda leadership, thus eliminating most names on the “most wanted” list. The president has even worked effectively to assert American influence in the South Pacific by opening a NEW military base…and has stood strong against China in an eminently prudent way. We may criticize Obama for certain points on foreign policy, but being a pansy couldn’t possibly be a complaint. (Having courage regarding domestic matters is another issue.)
Contrary to complaints issuing from the right-wing pundit-sphere, Obama has not cut military spending. Rather he has trimmed obvious areas of waste (with the imprimatur of Republican Secretary Gates) while marginally curtailing MASSIVE INCREASES IN military outlays (bringing Pentagon budget increases from obscenely ridiculous levels to merely gigantic levels).
If you are a foreign policy hawk, Obama should now be your poster boy. Since stepping into the Oval Office, he has been doing almost nothing but kicking ass and taking names in the so-called “war on terror”. No braggadocio, no national chauvinism; just sheer, raw pragmatism. Such accomplishment could only possibly be a problem if one’s case is: He has been inadequately belligerent.
Indeed, Obama’s successes have happened sans the belligerence that had caused most of our problems in the first place. Imagine that.
By hanging back in a measured way (e.g. “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere), Obama has made other countries not only NOT RESENT America, but actively seek America’s help. This is quite an impressive stunt he’s pulled off. In some ways, the global community has come to once again appreciate the role of the U.S. in international, collaborative efforts. As an antidote to the epidemic resentment generated by the Iraq War, this nuanced approach has worked extremely well. To begrudge Obama for not being sufficiently aggressive, then, is kinda nutty.
Beyond all this, Obama has mostly kow-towed to the quasi-fascist Likud Party (one of the biggest terrorist organizations on the planet, based on the death and suffering of innocent civilians it has caused)…all in an effort to appease AIPAC and other Revisionist Zionists. Technically, Obama has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for Palestinian rights. Yet, EVEN STILL, the radical right wing insists that Obama is just not right-wing enough. Go figure.
For more essays by Mason Scott, check out http://masonscott.org/