I appreciate Justin Raimondo’s smart comments in his latest column on my earlier Obama post, and I take his point that antiwar conservatives and libertarians shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Despite his cautious positioning over the last few years, Obama does oppose the war in Iraq and seems entirely serious when he says that he will bring it to an end. That is a very desirable outcome, and indeed what I had been hoping, obviously unrealistically, that the new Democratic majority would begin doing successfully last year.
My reservations about Obama come precisely from the focus on foreign policy and issues of war and peace that Mr. Raimondo quite rightly emphasises as central in this election and in our political system as a whole. Obama’s domestic agenda does nothing for me, though I do find his use of economic nationalist rhetoric on trade intriguing, but if there is one thing that the last seven years has shown me it is that neither major party candidate is going to be offering a domestic policy agenda that I would find worthy of actually supporting, and so it is again. There is certainly no “sentimental attachment to the GOP” in my case, unless disgust can be counted as a kind of sentimental attachment. So what worries me about Obama?
I remain wary of his broader foreign policy vision not simply because it theoretically may commit the United States to interventions throughout the world, which it will, but because Obama’s vaunted foreign policy judgement has clearly been lacking in almost every other case except for Iraq. I did find it slightly gratifying that his remarks on Kosovo were not entirely the sort of shameless pro-Albanianism that I expect from Democratic candidates (Hacim Thaci was a guest of honour at the 2004 convention, for goodness’ sake), but even so he remains fundamentally on the wrong side of that question. To my mind, getting Lebanon wrong in the summer of 2006 is almost as bad as being wrong about Iraq, because Obama’s support for the Lebanon war as it was actually fought makes me doubt his ability to discern which wars are “dumb” and “rash,” to borrow the words from his famous 2002 address. His remarks about sending forces into Pakistan, regardless of the Pakistani government’s consent, have had the bizarre effect of making McCain seem relatively more reasonable and restrained in the use of military force in that country. His position on Iran is nearly as confrontational and dangerous as any, and he has made explicit calls to intervene in Darfur, which would presumably entail a deployment of American soldiers to the Sudan. It isn’t just that he isn’t as anti-interventionist as I might like, but that he seems markedly more interventionist than the current administration and not much less so than McCain. He has not elaborated on any ideas on Russia policy beyond the no-brainer of securing loose Soviet-era nukes, which strikes me as a glaring oversight, but possibly one that could be remedied. His relative openness to employing diplomacy and a willingness to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba are two bright spots in what is otherwise a very grim picture.
If it simply came down to Iraq, where McCain has always been wrong and Obama has, more or less, always been right, I could probably see my way to cheer some modest cheers for Obama, but it isn’t and can’t be just about Iraq, even as important as the war is. Indeed, one thing Obama has right about Afghanistan and Pakistan is that that is the theater that is far more crucial for our strategic interests, but I have no confidence that Obama has any better grasp on what do with Pakistan than his future general election opponent. He has been right that Washington has only had a “Musharraf policy” and not a Pakistan policy, but nothing he has said about Pakistan leads me to think that he has one, either. Granted, on everything I have mentioned above, McCain is just as bad or worse, so I suppose I would prefer that Obama win given a choice between two frankly unpalatable and terrible options, but I cannot bring myself to cheer for him, much less to vote for him. More worrying to me now is the possibility that Obama’s candidacy, which has been so often compared to a souffle, will collapse for one reason or another and drag down the public’s opposition to the war with it. The Democrats ought to win this election in a walk, and the fact that the GOP is going to campaign explicitly on the war with a McCain nomination should make it even easier, but I simply don’t think Obama will win, which tends to dampen whatever cheering I might be willing to do.