He checked all the boxes. Barack (“Senator McCain is right”) Obama couldn’t find anything to disagree with the militarist Arizonan about. Support for NATO expansion? Check. Absurd anti-Russian diatribes? Check. Dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan? Check. I’m ready to attack Pakistan? Check. (Actually, on this one, McCain was the moderate!) Painful sanctions against Iran, backed up by the threat of force? Check. Blathering about the great threat from Al Qaeda? Check. It went on and on.
He couldn’t find anything to disagree about because McCain and Obama don’t disagree about very much when it comes to foreign policy. He checked all those boxes because he thinks, or at least seems to think, that these are the right policies. Of course, I agree with Dreyfuss that pretty much all of this is terrible stuff, but as many loyal Obama backers have pointed out to me over the months I am not exactly his target audience. It has never made any sense why Obama, who backed the war in Lebanon of all things, has been judged to be a dove or significantly different when it comes to “America’s approach to the world.”
This is hard for many a progressive, Obamacon and McCain supporter to accept, but it is true. McCain supporters need to believe that Obama is the next coming of McGovern, because McCain doesn’t have a chance in this election if that isn’t true. Progressives desperately want to believe that militarism is somehow just the preserve of Republicans and Joe Lieberman. Obamacons are hoping to find an alternative to insane neoconservative policies. Obama necessarily disappoints all of them, because he is not what they expected and, more to the point, doesn’t care how they portray him. If he has united people from The Nation and The American Conservative against him and prompted their withering scorn, he might think that he is in pretty good shape for the general election.
This is why I keep finding it hard to understand why some progressives have responded so negatively to Obama’s performance, which was all right, and why some observers on the right think that Obama was somehow debating on “Republican terms.” This is a result of either misunderstanding Obama or expecting too much from him. To borrow a line from Obama himself, if you were surprised by anything he said on Friday about foreign policy you haven’t been paying attention. To say that Obama debated on Republican terms on Friday is to accept the stereotype of Democrats as the party of McGovern on national security, when we all know that this simply isn’t true anymore, and to agree that Republicans have some monopoly on interventionism when we know that they don’t.