The Left and Obama's Foreign Policy

The Left, expecting nirvana with  Barack Obama’s victory, is quickly discovering that the President-elect intends to govern from the center and apparently give them very little.  The Democratic leadership, the left asserts, has not moved to end the war, stop the bailout or end what they see as the destruction of our civil liberties. And, much to their dismay, Barack Obama successfully admonished them not to take retribution on Senator Joe Lieberman for his great heresy- support to the campaign of John McCain. As James Kirchik writes, “the leadership of the Democratic Party isn’t as petty, vindictive and small as its left-wing supporters.”


Let us look at the critical area of foreign policy and national security. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is an indication that Obama has chosen a person supportive of our national security interests. Clinton campaigned as a fervent hawk, a defender of America’s interests and a leader committed to Israel’s security.  It was Senator Clinton during the campaign who called for being tough on Iran, even to the extent of suggesting that if Iran moved against Israel with its coming nuclear arsenal, we would obliterate it.

What really upsets the Left, however, is what they see as Obama’s great betrayal on Iraq. Writing in The Nation, national security correspondent Robert Dreyfuss argues that Obama was seen as “the anti-war candidate,” and yet he fears that he now will claim he has no mandate to end the war and withdraw our forces quickly. Instead, Dreyfuss worries that his circle of advisers will pressure him to abandon his antiwar pledges, and are mainly “hawkish Democrats” who regard such campaign promises as bad policy. Dreyfuss sees Obama consorting with the likes of Richard Holbrooke, hawks close to Joe Biden, and assorted neoconservatives whose counsel he seeks.  Seeing a potential showdown with his military advisers, whom Dreyfuss sees as supporters of General David Petraeus, he has a solution. Order them to pullout our troops as promised, or fire Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs just as Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

There is a major difference, however, between what MacArthur attempted during Korea and what Petraeus and the others advocate today. In the midst of battle, MacArthur countered policy and sought to take the war to China proper behind the Yalu River, thus risking a war with both China and the Soviet Union. Petraeus shifted policy to successfully implement Bush Administration policy by changing the results in Iraq, thereby lowering American deaths, stabilizing the country, and creating a situation that enhanced the chances of success for the existing policy.


The Left is also worried about the likelihood that Obama will keep Republican Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Gates supported the surge, and is of course identified with the Petraeus policy the Left dislikes so much. Most Americans will be pleased that the appointment of Gates indicates that Obama means to govern with a bi-partisan foreign policy consensus.

I have not read Robert Dreyfuss incorrectly. Just yesterday, he wrote that his hunches that Obama wants to “preside over a restoration of the bipartisan consensus that governed foreign policy during the cold war and the 1900s, updated for a post-9/11 world,” is correct.  He sees Obama as an enemy, as a man who wants to increase military spending, boost the size of the armed forces, expand our intelligence agencies and maintain US bases all over the globe. Reading Dreyfuss, one might think that it was not John McCain, but Barack Obama, who in foreign policy is Bush III. He even fears that Obama might even strengthen the National Endowment for Democracy, the quasi-governmental agency that acts to strengthen civil society agencies abroad that promote democracy. Led by Carl Gershman, once Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s assistant Ambassador to the UN during the Reagan presidency, the NED is the quintessential neo-con boogeyman of the Left.

So Dreyfuss asks; “Are we surprised that the views of Obama’s conservative and centrist advisers are, in fact, coherent with Obama’s own? And are we surprised that his choices for his foreign policy and national security appointments are drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and pro-military circles without even a single [one]…chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party?” Dreyfuss even worries that under Obama, the US might take “tough military action overseas in case of humanitarian crisis,” particularly in the Sudan. My God, he might even act like Jack Bauer in last night’s episode of “24:The Redemption.”


Dreyfuss’ colleague at the Nation, Christopher Hayes, complains that “not a solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has…even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one.”  Hayes thinks that the election showed that the consensus on all issues “came from the left.” Evidently, like all the ideologues on that publication, he ignores that in poll after poll the majority of the electorate identified themselves  as moderate,  centrist, or even conservative- and not supporters of the left. Hayes, like others on the Left, confuse their own certainty and ideology with that of the nation at large. It is fortunate for us that for now President-elect Obama seems not to agree.


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