Back in the 2008 political campaign, I remember having some serious doubts about Barack Obama’s foreign policy chops. It seemed to boil down to “you know what George W. Bush is doing? I’ll do the opposite.”
Bush, for his flaws, had a fairly good grasp of the world. He could see the world as it is, as well as he wished it was. And he had a pretty good idea of what would and wouldn’t work.
Further, he was decisive. He knew how to make decisions. He didn’t fart around — once he believed something had to be done, he went ahead and did it.
It’s taken a few years, but gradually President Obama has apparently had his eyes opened by reality. He’s quietly reversed himself on most of his previous positions, and without comment or acknowledgment taken on many of the positions he so roundly criticized.
For example, the detention facility at Guantanamo. Candidate Obama came into office promising to shut it down on day one. Then, he backed off and issed an order for it to be done within one year. A bit over two years after Obama took office, Guantanamo is still open, there are no plans to close it down any time soon, and they don’t like talking about it when you ask them.
Similarly, the trials of those detainees. Candidate Obama said that military tribunals were utterly unacceptable, and they would be brought before civilian courts, with full recognition of their Constitutional rights. While a lot of liberals applauded that, no particular locale was willing to take on the trials. And again, just over Obama’s term in office, he’s backed off and ordered the resumption of military tribunals.
In December of 2007, Candidate (and Senator) Obama opined in the Boston Globe about the authority of the president when it comes to military action:
The President does not have power under the Constitution
to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not
involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and
defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President
would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising
Congress or seeking its consent.
Further, Senator Joe Biden, speaking in the same month (and also a candidate for president), told this to an audience:
Ladies and gentlemen, I drafted an outline of what I think the
Constitutional limits [garbled] have on the President with the War
Clause. I went to five leading scholars, Constitutional scholars, and
they drafted a treatise for me that is being distributed to every
Senator. And I want to make it clear, and I’ll make it clear to the
President: that if he takes this nation to war in Iran, without
Congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him.
Fortunately for President Obama and Vice-President Biden, both Senator Obama and Senator Biden are no longer in Congress. Especially since Senator Biden thought that it was the power of the Senate to impeach the president — the House impeaches, the Senate tries the case.
It’s also hard to distinguish President Obama’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan from those promulgated under President Bush.
Now, since I supported most of President Bush’s foreign policies, one would think I was glad Obama was following Bush’s lead. But I’m not.
Oh, I don’t mind that Obama hasn’t admitted he was wrong and reversing himself. There’s only so much one can hope for. And as the old saying goes, “there’s no limit to the good a man can do if he’s willing to forgo credit.” If Obama needs to protect his ego by not admitting he was utterly wrong on so many elements, I’ll give him a pass — because what’s more important is what gets done.
No, what bugs me is that he’s doing it so incompetently. Witness his actions in Libya — he dithered for weeks while the UN, the Arab League, and other nations lined up to back the move, even going so far as going along with the US not taking a leadership role before striking — long after the rebels had peaked, and were on the verge of utter defeat. Now that alliance is crumbling — the Arab League is backpedaling on the stikes they had begged for, Turkey is keeping NATO from getting involved as an organization, Germany is pulling out, Italy says we can’t use their bases any more, Russia is expressing its disapproval, and there are several other indicators that it’s starting to seriously turn pear-shaped. And domestically, quite a few people — including some Obama supporters — are asking why Obama had the time to work with the UN, the Arab League, and other nations, but couldn’t be bothered to consult with Congress (not even the leadership) first, let alone make his case to the American people.
Finally, while Obama insists that we aren’t in charge, there’s a serious question about just who is. No one wants to take the responsibility. And France is talking about setting up a “steering committee” to run the show. Good lord, warfare by committee? Are they serious? Or are they just being more French than usual?
Fault Bush all you want, but before we went into Iraq, he had 17 UN resolutions, authorization from Congress, and made quite a few speeches on the subject. Plus he had the entire NATO membership and roughly twice as many nations total backing that move than Obama had for this one. If, in spite of that, Bush was a “cowboy,” then Obama is the proverbial lone wolf.
Finally, Obama needs to be reminded of some 18th-century words of wisdom: “if you strike against a king, be sure to kill him.” Obama shot his mouth off a couple of weeks ago and proclaimed “K-Daffy” has to go, then launched military attacks against Libya. If Obama fails to get K-Daffy out of power, then he will be perceived as weak and a failure.
But back to the topic at hand: Obama seems to have discovered that as much as he denounced Bush’s foreign policy, it’s one that works better than his own flailings. And as good news as that is, what is even more important that he learn how to actually carry it out.