Saturday, March 28, 2009

Obama's Neoconservative Pragmatism

Daniel Larison, in his post attacking Barack Obama's commitment to American success in Afghanistan, demonstrates it's not so much the administration's policy that bothers him, but the policy legitimacy the administration's military and civilian reinforcements give to the "evil" neocons:

If it was a fantasy in Iraq “to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture civil society and rebuild failed states,” it remains a fantasy today. It makes no difference what label one gives to it, and it is certainly not a fantasy that only neoconservatives embrace. If Americans have not learned by now that such efforts are folly, and more important that they would not be worth it even if they turned out to be successful, it may indeed say something about our national character. What I fear is that Obama, who has always been an interventionist with great confidence in this fantasy of what American power can achieve, believes that the “energetic and ambitious response” is what the American public desires and will support for years to come ....

Because Obama is setting far too ambitious goals for Afghanistan with too few resources, while largely neglecting (or exacerbating) more significant problems inside Pakistan that are gradually making our position in Afghanistan untenable, he runs the risk of jeopardizing public support for the much more limited and achievable security goals that are in our interest and the interest of Afghanistan’s neighbors. In the end, he will have the support of the fantasists who led us into Iraq and liberal internationalists who are still invested in the idea of nation-building, and he will have to face the growing numbers of people who have grown weary of a Long War that has ceased to make any sense (if it ever made sense in the first place).
Let me start with this last part first: The "Long War" is the war on terror, and to question if it ever made sense "in the first place" is precisely why "paleoconservatives" are rightly marginalized as unpatriotic. When the U.S. was attacked in September 2001, the "paleos" were quick to blame the U.S. for its expansive foreign engagement as triggering a generously deserved "blowback." Virtually no one else in American politics felt the same way, except for a few hare-brained academic radicals, the same folks who would later agitate for a "million Mogadishus" on American forces. When the Iraq war came, Patrick Buchanan made unhinged anti-Jewish attacks on the Bush administration's neoconservatives, asking "whose war" is this? Of course, "losertarians" like Justin Raimondo have made common cause the leading factions of the neo-Stalinist left, and here we have Daniel Larison excoriating the Iraq deployment as "folly," as if U.S. forces under General David Petraeus had not engineered the greatest military/strategic turnaround since World War II. And this is after even some of the most hardline "paleos" have conceded to reality in acknowledging the magnitude of the American victory.

What's actually funny is that Larison - for all his verbosity - doesn't actually say anything of value to the policy debate. I mean, who can honestly say that Americans have "no real national interest" in a safe, secure, and sustainable Afghanistan? Indeed, what would even be an actual interest then? Even an "offshore balancing" approach to U.S. stragegy assumes the potential for the U.S. to be pulled into events on the periphery - precisely because the the U.S. in primus inter pares in world affairs, and there is an extant demand for American leadership in providing public goods in world commerce and international security. But Larison has no answer. Any engagement beyond America's shores would qualify as "frittering away our resources to no apparent purpose," and umpteen citations to "genuine" conservatives like Andrew Bacevich or arch-appeasers like Matthew Yglesias doesn't alter the fundamental truth that there is evil abroad, and that there is a job to be won in combating it. Who you gonna call?

If folks are going to criticize Obama on Afghanistan, it should be for not doing enough. As
Michael Yon noted this week, "the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire." Michael Yon is hardly a "neocon," although the very "fantasists" that Larison excoriates have suggested that despite Obama's caution, "the president is pragmatic in the best sense of the word."

The opposite of "pragmatic" is impractical or irrationally ideological, and so it's worth considering who's really in a "fantasy" world here, the president or Mr. Larison?


AmPowerBlog said...

Well, Buchanan's not so great overall, Philippe.

Old Rebel said...


Wow. Looks like you and I agree that Obama is just another hired hand of the Empire:

“So let’s see — the Obama Regime expands DC’s foreign military adventures, defends John Yoo’s doctrine of the imperial presidency, and is working on another amnesty scheme for illegal aliens.

Oh, and now we can add the abuse of executive signing statements to Obama’s resume. Looks like the age of color-blindness has indeed arrived, because it’s impossible to distinguish George W. Bush from Barack Hussein Obama.”