Along with the faith that the “Hope and Change” administration would deliver us from economic evils, came the belief that they would develop a clearer, less aggressive foreign policy. No more hasty invasions of countries that had violated sixteen U.N. resolutions requiring them to dismantle their weapons programs. We would return to the worldview of the Clinton administration, which had hindered intelligence-sharing among law enforcement and military agencies, relaxed restrictions on sharing dual-use technology with China (in return for campaign cash), and allowed the North Koreans to develop nuclear weapons.
Thank God all of those neo-conservatives, like Dick Chaney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Don Rumsfeld, and their policies, would be gone. In fact, less than a month after Barack Obama’s inauguration, Jonathan Clarke, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, penned an obituary for the neo-conservative philosophy, which he described as exhibiting the following characteristics:
- a tendency to see the world in binary good/evil terms
- low tolerance for diplomacy
- readiness to use military force
- emphasis on US unilateral action
- disdain for multilateral organizations
- focus on the Middle East
However, the author admitted that this obituary might be premature if trouble with Iran erupted, or if the Obama administration adopted a different brand of neo-conservatism, a “neo-humanitarian” philosophy, with an emphasis on intervening in humanitarian crises. Nevertheless, Clarke, a former British diplomat, prophesied that the Obama administration would proceed with caution, and that, “The safest bet . . . is that we can bid adieu to the neo-cons and leave their role to be adjudicated by history.”
Wrong-o, old chap! In practice, the Obama’s administration mish-mashes neo-conservative and neo-humanitarian philosophy in ways that continually muddy our foreign policy objectives. Ask long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak about Obama’s tendency to see the world in binary terms and his low tolerance for diplomacy. And it’s nice to see liberals defending our President’s unilateral action in Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. And what’s a Democratic administration’s foreign policy if it doesn’t stir up hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians?
Before the 2008 election, Senator Obama asserted, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” I guess that’s why Mr. Outreach to the Muslim World stood idly by in 2009, as the revolts in Iran were put down. But now our “kinetic military action” in Libya seems focused on regime change, despite any “imminent threat” posed by Gaddafi. Maybe it’s okay because the French and the British are there too.
We’re also supposedly in Libya to protect the rebels and protesters. But then why didn’t we intervene in Tanzania or Bahrain to protect their populations? Or, maybe we should launch an incursion into Syria on neo-conservative grounds, since their pursuit of a weapons program and support of terrorism seem much more threatening to our national interests. The actions of al-Qaeda in Yemen could certainly constitute a threat to the United States, which is why we’ve resumed missile attacks against al-Qaeda targets there. But there are also urgent warnings that the country has been thrown into a humanitarian crisis, which may precipitate other types of aid.
I’m hoping that, as President Obama’s re-election campaign gets into full swing, he will once again clarify his position on the constitutional limits to military action, the War Powers Act, and why his foreign policy decisions seem to depend on which side of the bed he wakes up on in the morning.