Right Wing Nut House

12/11/2009

IS OBAMA GROWING INTO THE JOB OF COMMANDER IN CHIEF?

Filed under: Decision '08, Iran, Politics — Rick Moran @ 11:30 am

It may seem pejorative, or at best condescending to wonder if the messages contained in President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech are indicative of a more realistic view of the world than he has demonstrated previously.

But the president’s supporters must grant those of us who believe this the benefit of the doubt. The president’s actions and words previous to his decision regarding Afghanistan were, at times, inscrutable (Iran), and at other points, little more than highfalutin platitudes (disarmament).

Obama’s Nobel speech was different. He may be the first peace prize recipient in history to actually defend armed conflict in certain narrow circumstances. Very un-Ghandi like, that. And his straightforward defense of what America has accomplished over the last 6 decades as far as being a force for good in the world was welcomed by those of us who wondered at the president’s previous tepid remarks on the subject.

Many prominent conservatives not only praised the speech but expressed surprise at its more robust tone toward our security. The Wall Street Journal:

The address set a new tone for his young administration, which been accused by foreign-policy hawks of being too accommodating to overseas powers and too quick to seek favor abroad.

Mr. Obama made a muscular defense of American action against enemies, and recognized the existence of “evil” in the globe and the inherent fallibility of human impulses — core principles of a more traditionally conservative foreign policy.

At the same time, Mr. Obama stuck to the kinds of commitments that earned him the peace prize in the first place — the cause of international engagement over unilateralism, not only with institutions Washington has spurned in the past, such as the United Nations, but also the “evils” themselves. He cited Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao after the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution and Ronald Reagan’s engagement with the Soviet Union as efforts that moved the world toward peace and oppressed peoples toward freedom.

I think most conservatives don’t mind “international engagement” as long as the job gets done. I don’t know of anyone on the right who wouldn’t have welcomed with open arms the same kind of coalition that freed Kuwait in the Gulf War put together before the invasion of Iraq. That goes double for Afghanistan, where only around 30% of NATO troops are actually allowed to engage in combat at the present time.

It has not been Obama’s rejection of unilateralism, but rather his too easy reliance on “international engagement” to address problems that most of the rest of the world are reluctant to solve. The only consideration should be realistically addressing Iran’s nukes or Sudan’s genocide and to hell with whether we have to do it alone or if we get the entire planet on our side.

Process and form over substance and action; that has been the primary critique of Obama’s foreign policy as I understand it. And if this is the attitude that the president has now embraced, I welcome it:

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes,” he said, evoking the horrors of war and triumphant scenes of peaceful protest. “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

I don’t believe it was an accident that the president added “acting individually” to that strong affirmation of just war and self defense. While it is true the president had previously said he would “go it alone” if US interests were threatened, the fact that he said it in the context of the campaign, made it suspect once he gained office - as have so many other statements he made that he has since abandoned.

Robert Kagan was impressed:

Wow. What a shift of emphasis. Something about this Afghan decision, coupled perhaps with events in Iran, has really affected his approach.

I don’t know what to say about an “Obama doctrine,” because based on this speech, I think we are witnessing a substantial shift, back in the direction of a more muscular moralism, a la, Truman, Reagan. The emphasis on military power, war for just causes, and moral principles recalls Theodore Roosevelt’s phrase, “the just man armed.” There is something much more quintessentially American and traditional about this speech, compared to most of his rhetorical approach throughout the year.

It’s always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a speech, but this is a big one.

Kagan’s “muscular moralism” does indeed describe the president’s thinking. Is it “new?” Perhaps Afghanistan and Iran, rather than forcing him to “shift” his thinking, has sharpened his focus. This from state’s man on Iran:

The United States will not sit silently by and ignore what happens on the streets of Tehran, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Iran at the State Department said Thursday.

John Limbert, who was among diplomats held hostage by radical students at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 30 years ago, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “We believe as we have always believed that the Iranian people deserve decent treatment from their government.”

His comments came on the same day that U.S. President Barack Obama, during a lecture in Oslo, Norway, after he received his Nobel Peace Prize, declared the world is bearing witness to the struggle for rights and justice in countries such as Iran.

The president, in a departure from his prepared remarks, said, “These movements of hope and history, they have us on their side.” He used the word “us,” while the text of his speech said, “hope and history are on their side.”

I believe that is the first time in a public utterance the president identified the United States directly with the Iranian opposition. And Limbert’s tone was decidedly sharper than any previous words coming from our State Department:

Limbert said he found it remarkable that the young people of Iran are willing to come back to the streets again and again. “Iranians have been seeking a voice in their own affairs and decent treatment from their government now for well over 100 years,” he said. “Most of that 100 years, I would add, has been a history of frustration and defeat.”

Subtly different from last summer’s somewhat non-committal attitude the US took toward the crackdown. Of course, at that time, we were trying to engage Iran with regard to making a deal on their nuclear program. Now that the tentative agreement reached in Vienna on October 1 is deader than a doornail - rejected by Ahmadinejad - it appears that another round of sanctions are imminent.

In truth, I was never in doubt as to whether the president would use military force to defend American territory. And I still have questions about how he defines “just war.” But the president’s words were welcomed nonetheless as showing me, at least, that his attitude toward America’s defense has become a little more realistic and cognizant of the idea that we live in a more dangerous world than he was perhaps ready to accept last January 20 when he took office.

12 Comments

  1. Before I get to the substance of this post, congratulations re below. Even when I find you tedious, at least you make me think before I am critical. That is more than can be said of 99 percent of blogs, political or not.

    Now to the issue at hand. Yesterday I was proud Obama is my president. Most of the time I am not. But in this instance, he subtly called out the Euro Left appeasement mentality in such a way that he deserves high praise.

    I will not descend to the gutter with the Democratic Left trash and criticize a president simply for partisan reasons. Obama made the case, and although the second half of the speech had tones of Carter, the first half was where the actual action was.

    Speaking of Carter, to Obama’s credit he didn’t require Soviet tanks rolling into Kabul to have a semi-epiphany. We now have American tanks there, and for goddamned good reason, and the gravity of that reality has had some impact on an otherwise naive and inept president. Early into his first and likely only term, thank God, this president has come to realize the bullshit rhetoric of the faculty lounge has no application in the real world.

    Obama did well, and I am, again, proud of him.

    Comment by jackson1234 — 12/11/2009 @ 11:58 am

  2. It is refreshing to be proud of our President for his words in a foreign land. Let us hope that his future decisions and actions will follow the words appropriately.

    That is a wait-and-see proposition.

    Comment by mannning — 12/11/2009 @ 12:37 pm

  3. It was a good speech (if suprising given the venue), but actions speak louder than words.

    I’m mystified at the Right’s criticism of his approach to Afganistan. Before the election, he made clear he wanted to send more troops. Almost the first thing he did after the election was send more troops. His planning recently over the “surge” getting ready to go to me was impressive — he wanted to make sure we had a coherent plan, and stayed on the process until he felt comfortable that we had (whether you disagree with the “plan”, or even if we have one, the approach seems prudent, presidential, and appropriate to me).

    Likewise his desire for mutlinationalism. Saying “we’d rather do things with multinational agreement and support” doesn’t in any way equate to “we won’t take a piss witout a UN resolution approving”. Again, the approach makes sense to me.

    So the whole “naive, bumbling babe that has no idea what he’s doing” meme just mystifies me in terms of what its based on. He may be a rookie quarterback in this league, but he’s making intelligent calls. I may not agree with the particular calls . . . but they do demonstrate a respectable level of ability and competence in my eyes.

    Comment by busboy33 — 12/11/2009 @ 8:21 pm

  4. It may seem pejorative, or at best condescending to wonder if the messages contained in President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech are indicative of a more realistic view of the world than he has demonstrated previously.

    There is nothing new, surprising or different in this speech. Not a single word or paragraph, thought or reference surprised me. Nor have his actions in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan surprised me.

    When people see what they want to see rather than what is real, they are often surprised when forced to face reality. The Right has gone off on a magical mystery tour of fantasies about Obama. But this is Obama, as he always was.

    Which is why I voted for him.

    Maybe what you meant to say, rather than “he’s growing into it,” is “I was wrong, like most of my buddies on the Right because I saw what I expected to see rather than what was right there in front of me.”

    The growth isn’t his, it’s yours.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 12/11/2009 @ 10:21 pm

  5. It was a very good speech. The test will be whenever things get rough there and he has to do something wildly unpopular. As an American, I hope he will sacrifice popularity for results. As a realist, and based on Obama’s record to date, I sincerely doubt he has “grown into the job” and can rise above applause lines. If he proves me wrong I will be happy. I doubt he will prove me wrong.

    Comment by obamathered — 12/11/2009 @ 11:53 pm

  6. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
    Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah 13:26 (New International Version)

    A few kind words about the United States cannot wipe away a lifetime of associations with highly questionable and anti-American characters. Why should anyone believe that Obama has changed merely because he interspersed a few kind words about the U.S. in his acceptance speech? I am not keen on death bed conversions. Prudence dictates wait and see.

    Comment by Lawrence Miller — 12/12/2009 @ 5:53 am

  7. If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

    - The Real Lincoln

    Comment by CZ — 12/12/2009 @ 7:23 am

  8. Wow, even the hardcore righties are giving Obama praise. I guess that means he’s not a commie, a marxist, or a man trying to destroy America.Thanks Rick for a non-partisan evaluation of Obama’s speech.Obama is more a centrist than anything.No matter what Glen Beck says universal health care does not make one a marxist. I doubt that the tribal hodgepod of Afhganistan will ever be peaceful or ruled by a sound central government based in Kabul. That said Al Queda operatives need to be destroyed in the region.I’m just happy today that the right is waking up to the trickery that Limbaugh and company pulled of Obama being the anti-Christ. You folks got pawned, plain and simple.

    Comment by Joe — 12/12/2009 @ 9:50 am

  9. @Joe:

    “Wow, even the hardcore righties are giving Obama praise.”

    Sadly, no.

    People who actually think are giving him respect for the speech. Hardcore Righties would trot out the same anti-Obama chant if he cured cancer (see comments #6 and #7 above for examples).

    Remember — he’s evil, thinks of nothing but doing evil, drinks the blood of infants, and has spent his entire life plotting for the destruction of America. He is both a brilliant sleeper agent embroiled in a pan-government conspiracy and incompetent, stupid and naive (neat trick that). He’s a Kenyan, a Chicago Mobster, a terrorist, a Mooslim, a fascist, a Communist, and probably a Satanist as well.

    But aside from that . . . yeah, good speech.

    Comment by busboy33 — 12/12/2009 @ 10:08 am

  10. Busboy:

    That’s their narrative and they’re sticking to it. “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” as Paul Simon pointed out.

    The percentage of people — especially people on the extremes — who will fit narrative to facts rather than the other way around is disappearingly small.

    As I point out from time to time we badly need education in basic philosophy, particularly epistemology. Chances of that happening? Zero.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 12/12/2009 @ 10:54 am

  11. @MikeReynolds:

    When I was teaching at a State University, I begged the board to let me teach a Basic Logic and Reason class. I volunteered to do it for free, and provide all the materials. All they had to do was let me use one of the empty classrooms and allow students to show up. Absolutely zero cost to the school and to the students.

    No dice. Apparently, a class in learning how to understand thinking was “unclassifiable” (I’m not making this up). What department would it fall under? How do you list it in a course catalog? Think of the administrative headaches trying to apply credits for Major and Minor concentrations! There had been no sub-committee formed to hold multi-year meetings into the concept. It couldn’t be used to enhance their accreditation review package. What if students wanted more? Then they’d have to make more classes and print documents! And who would determine who had the authority tp print documents? It could turn into a major power struggle among the tenured faculty.

    Better to ignore the topic. It was, and I’ll never forget this until the day I die . . . “too dangerous”.

    Comment by busboy33 — 12/12/2009 @ 6:16 pm

  12. Apparently, a class in learning how to understand thinking was “unclassifiable”

    I’ve seldom seen a statement that so perfectly delineates the line between tragedy and comedy.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 12/12/2009 @ 10:00 pm

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