Monday, April 30, 2007

Roberak F. Obagan

Lefties, depending on their level of Obama fandom, are either gloating or fretting at the prospect of an endorsement from neoconservative extraordinaire Robert Kagan. Sez Kagan:
America must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." With those words, Barack Obama put an end to the idea that the alleged overexuberant idealism and America-centric hubris of the past six years is about to give way to a new realism, a more limited and modest view of American interests, capabilities and responsibilities.

Obama's speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last week was pure John Kennedy, without a trace of John Mearsheimer. It had a deliberate New Frontier feel, including some Kennedy-era references ("we were Berliners") and even the Cold War-era notion that the United States is the "leader of the free world." No one speaks of the "free world" these days, and Obama's insistence that we not "cede our claim of leadership in world affairs" will sound like an anachronistic conceit to many Europeans, who even in the 1990s complained about the bullying "hyperpower." In Moscow and Beijing it will confirm suspicions about America's inherent hegemonism. But Obama believes the world yearns to follow us, if only we restore our worthiness to lead. Personally, I like it.
But I think people are kind of confused about what Kagan is doing here. About 80% of the strategy is aimed at some combination of the following two goals:
  1. First, Kagan wants to create the impression that his own thoroughly-discredited world view retains significant credibility. (Look! Even prominent Democratic presidential contenders have foreign policy views much like mine! Mine's practically the consensus position!)

  2. Second, Kagan is clearly - smugly, even - aware that by approving of Obama's alleged foreign policy views, he undermines Obama among a significant number of his potential supporters. Yes, Kagan is dumb. But he also kind of isn't; he knows what the liberal Democratic reaction to his column is going to be.
The big red flag should be that in order to accomplish either of those two objectives, Kagan has to significantly overstate the evidence that Obama actually holds views that are anything like Kagan's. Obama, let's all remember, opposed the Iraq war before it was cool.

So what Kagan is doing is using his page space at the Washington Post to muddy the waters surrounding the merits of his own fairly crazy foreign policy beliefs. If he asserts blithely and confidently enough that Barak Obama and John Kennedy hold or held approximately similar views, people won't know quite what to think anymore. And mission accomplished!

Kagan sort of admits the paucity of the evidence in his favor toward the end:
Of course, it's just a speech. At the Democrats' debate on Thursday, when asked how he would respond to another terrorist attack on the United States, Obama at first did not say a word about military action. So maybe his speech only reflects what he and his advisers think Americans want to hear. But that is revealing, too. When it comes to America's role in the world, apparently they don't think there's much of an argument.
Of course, a strong majority of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. So, there you have it: like much of the rest of the contemporary Republican party platform, the best you can say of their foreign policy is that the American people enjoy the rhetoric but don't actually want to see any of the concrete policy ideas actively pursued.

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