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And now we have Barack Obama, who campaigned against George Bush’s foreign policy by evoking once again this irrelevant and delusional narrative. As a Senator, Obama called the successful 2007 “surge” of troops to Iraq a “reckless escalation,” and introduced legislation to remove all combat forces by March 2008. During the campaign, his 2007 Foreign Policy article sounded all the themes of the Vietnam narrative. The war in Iraq is a “civil war,” he wrote, resurrecting the argument critics of the Vietnam War used to rationalize U.S. inaction. He called the Iraq war a “morass,” evoking the dreaded “quagmire,” and counseled withdrawal of our forces before any more disastrous “escalation.” George Bush’s cowboy “unilateral” use of force of the sort allegedly proven ineffective in Vietnam was discarded for “a restoration of multilateralism and participation in international institutions.” Bush’s illegal detaining, interrogating, torture of prisoners, redolent of Nixon’s “rogue elephant” CIA, had to be stopped. American exceptionalism, a euphemism for what Senate dove J. William Fulbright in 1966 called “the arrogance of power,” was discarded, replaced by a global “partner mindful of his own imperfections.”
As President, Obama acted on these assumptions. He issued Executive Order 13491, banning the use of enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, the same techniques that contributed to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden. He promised to close down Guantanamo, rejected military tribunals for trying captured terrorists, allowed his Attorney General to hound CIA agents who had been involved in enhanced interrogations, released the Justice Department memos that legally vetted, and described in detail, the interrogation techniques used by the CIA, thus giving our enemies invaluable intelligence about resisting those techniques. And fearful of the Vietnam “quagmire,” he has announced “deadlines” for American withdrawal from Afghanistan, convincing the Taliban and its Pakistani enablers that all they have to do to win is wait for us to leave. All of these actions reflect the tendentious leftwing narrative of the excesses that were indulged during the Vietnam War, and that the left is adamant about never repeating, no matter the cost to our national security.
Worse yet for the war against jihad, Obama has based his “outreach” to the Muslim world on the old paradigm of American guilt and the need to atone for its neo-colonial sins. His June 2009 speech in Cairo attributed the “tensions” between Islam and the West to “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.” In other words, Western and American foreign policy crimes, not supremacist Islamic doctrine and jihadist ideology, must bear the responsibility for Muslim terrorism. Based on this paradigm of American guilt and atonement, Obama has reached out repeatedly to the mullahs in Iran, receiving in return contemptuous dismissals and continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons. He has sent an ambassador back to Syria despite that regime’s support of insurgents killing Americans. He has pressured our best ally in the region, Israel, to make concessions to the Palestinian Arabs despite the lack of any reciprocal concessions. On the contrary, the Palestinian Authority has broken off talks and reconciled with a genocidal Hamas. He has abandoned allies like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, opening space for the Muslim Brothers and their anti-American, anti-Israel jihadist ideology. In Libya he has been “leading from behind,” involving American power and prestige in a genuine civil war that so far has bogged down in a genuine “quagmire.” And Pakistan increasingly acts against our interests, as in the recent arrest of the Pakistani agents who had helped us locate bin Laden.
Of course, the political dialectic of ideology and self-interested opportunism has also been evident in Obama’s calculations. He did send more troops to Afghanistan, he has kept many Bush-era policies, such as rendition, that he demonized as a candidate, he has stepped up Predator drone attacks, he didn’t object to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will not be given a civilian trial in Manhattan, military tribunals are still operative, and Guantanamo remains open for business. Yet while these policies are correct, their main function is to give Obama some foreign policy credibility, and forestall the possibility of another terrorist attack that would destroy his chances of reelection. And combined with his Carter-like groveling and appeasement of our enemies, this inconsistency sows confusion among our allies even as it heartens our enemies, who view it as a sign of weakness and fear.
The paradigm of American neo-imperialist, neo-colonialist sins as the cause of our enemies’ aggression, one allegedly legitimized by the disaster of the Vietnam War, must be put to rest. We must take off the “kick me” sign the left has hung on America’s back for forty years, and develop a new paradigm: a foreign policy based on the unembarrassed assertion of American power in service to American goodness, backed up by a demonstrated willingness to stand by our allies and punish our enemies. If we do, we will find it much easier to pursue our global interests and defend our security.
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