Dr. Barack and Mr. Hyde
So why is there such a disconnect between what Obama once declared and what he subsequently professed? There are four explanations, none of them mutually exclusive:
A. Candidate Obama had no experience in foreign policy and has always winged it, now and then recklessly sounding off when he thought he could score cheap points against George Bush. As president, he still has no idea of how foreign policy is conducted, and thus continues to make things up as he goes along, often boxing himself into a corner with serial contradictions. Trying to discern any consistency or pattern in such an undisciplined mind is a futile exercise: what Obama says or does at any given moment usually is antithetical to what he said or did on a prior occasion. He is simply lost and out of his league.
B. Candidate Obama has always been an adroit demagogue. He knew how to score political points against George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, without any intention of abiding by his own sweeping declarations. The consistency in Obama’s foreign policy is his own carefully calibrated self-interest. Bombing or not bombing, shutting down or keeping open Guantanamo Bay, going or not going to the UN or the U.S. Congress — these choices are all predicated not on principle, but only on what a canny and unprincipled Obama feels best suits his own political interests and self-image at any given moment. In a self-created jam, he flipped and now goes to Congress in hopes of pinning responsibility on them, whether we go or not, whether successful or unsuccessful if we do. He is a quite clever demagogue.
C. Obama is a well-meaning and sincere naïf, but a naïf nonetheless. He really believed the world prior to 2009 worked on the premises of the Harvard Law School lounge, Chicago organizing, and Rev. Wright’s Church — or least should have worked on such assumptions. Then when Obama took office, saw intelligence reports, and assumed the responsibilities of our highest office, he was shocked at the dangerous nature of the world! There was no more opportunity for demagoguery or buck-passing, and he had to become serious. In short, it is easy to criticize without power, hard with it to make tough decisions and bad/worse choices. He is slowly learning.
D. Obama is the first president who genuinely feels U.S. exceptionalism and power were not ethically earned and should be in an ethical sense ended. As a candidate, he consistently undermined current U.S. foreign policy at a time of two critical wars; as president, he has systematically forfeited U.S. authority and prestige. There is no inconsistency: whatever makes the traditional idea of the U.S as a superpower weaker, Obama promotes; whatever enhances our profile, he opposes. He is often quite angry at what could be called traditional America — seen often as a downright mean country here and abroad.
Related: VDH talks with veteran Chicago radio host Milt Rosenberg at Milt’s new perch at Ricochet.com, in a 46-minute podcast.