Via Jim Antle, I see that Professor Bacevich (a TAC Contributing Editor) has a very smart and interesting column in the Globe today. Prof. Bacevich makes a very persuasive case that Mr. Bush will be leaving a substantial legacy that either one of his likely successors will inherit and which neither one of them has yet seriously challenged. He says that Obama’s fitness for office hinges on challenging and promising to overturn a significant part of this legacy, and I would tend to agree. Generally, what separates me from my pro-Obama colleagues is that they believe he intends to overturn at least some of this legacy, while I take him at his word that he is on board with almost all of it.
Jim thinks that this new op-ed is a qualification of the support for Obama Bacevich outlined in his article for TAC, but this support was already heavily qualified at the time. Unlike some of Obama’s more optimistic conservative admirers, Prof. Bacevich has never pretended that Obama was anything other than what he was when it came to foreign policy, which is to say a liberal interventionist who happened to oppose the war in Iraq. It’s worth looking closely at the items on Bacevich’s list to see just how unlikely it is that Obama will turn against them:
- Defined the contemporary era as an “age of terror” with an open-ended “global war” as the necessary, indeed the only logical, response;
Contrary to the misinterpretations of Obama’s recent remarks about prosecuting terror suspects in civilian courts, Obama does not propose redefining antiterrorism away from the “war on terror” model. His support for the PATRIOT Act and the FISA legislation show that he is mostly, if not entirely, supportive of the expansions of government surveillance powers being used domestically.
- Promulgated and implemented a doctrine of preventive war, thereby creating a far more permissive rationale for employing armed force;
While Obama does not bang the drum for a military strike on Iran as often as his opponent does, his remarks to AIPAC confirm that he will not rule out an attack on Iran that would be framed as a “preventive” war.
- Affirmed – despite the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001 – that the primary role of the Department of Defense is not defense, but power projection;
There is absolutely no indication that Obama believes otherwise, and has made increasing the Pentagon budget to aid in this power projection an important plank in his national security agenda.
Removed constraints on military spending so that once more, as Ronald Reagan used to declare, “defense is not a budget item”;
It is unclear how Obama would handle this, but it seems unlikely that any President committed to all of the above would want to be constrained by anything so quaint as Congressional oversight or public transparency.
- Enhanced the prerogatives of the imperial presidency on all matters pertaining to national security, effectively eviscerating the system of checks and balances;
See the points re: PATRIOT Act and FISA above.
Preserved and even expanded the national security state, despite the manifest shortcomings of institutions such as the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
I don’t remember Obama making any Paulian calls for the abolition of the Department of Homeland Security, and I can’t imagine him embarking on such a path.
- Preempted any inclination to question the wisdom of the post-Cold War foreign policy consensus, founded on expectations of a sole superpower exercising “global leadership”;
As I said almost ten months ago, his vision takes America’s “global leadership” for granted and he frames his entire critique of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy in terms of restoring American leadership that he believes Bush has squandered.
- Completed the shift of US strategic priorities away from Europe and toward the Greater Middle East, the defense of Israel having now supplanted the defense of Berlin as the cause to which presidents and would-be presidents ritually declare their fealty.
If there was any doubt about his commitment to this, Obama’s unflinching support of the bombing of Lebanon and his last two AIPAC speeches ought to have removed them forever.
Now a cynic might say that Obama has reversed himself so often in recent weeks that we need only wait a little while to find an Obama position that we like, but this would be to miss the pattern of Obama’s reversals. In every case, he opts for the position that will bring him maximal political advantage and will allow him to avoid confrontation with powerful interests. There are no areas of policy more resistant to reform than foreign policy and national security, and no areas of policy more politically dangerous to try to change dramatically (except perhaps entitlements), so we can take for granted that Obama’s embrace of the establishment consensus on foreign policy and national security will either not change or will become even more conventional over time.