As you would expect, Leon Wieseltier disparages the “realist” views that he identifies with Obama and Hagel:
Obama is acting also in the name of a strategic concept. It is an old, cold concept. Obama’s loftiness has provided cover for the ascendancy of “realism”—which is not always the same as realism, as the consequences of our abdication in Syria will eventually demonstrate. The Obama-Rumsfeld lineage is only one of the ironies of the new foreign policy consensus. There is also the bizarre enthusiasm of progressives for the amoral likes of Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. And richest of all is their sudden reverence for Chuck Hagel, whom none of them admired, and rightly not, when he was in the Senate.
In case it needed saying, there is no such thing as an “Obama-Rumsfeld lineage” in policymaking. Wieseltier starts off by confusing Rumsfeld’s interest in transforming the structure of the military with Obama’s reluctance to embark on new large-scale, prolonged ground wars. He then states that Obama has applied the “principle of shrinkage” to foreign policy, but this is mistaken. Obama’s foreign policy to date has not been an exercise in “shrinking the ends” of U.S. foreign policy, but rather refusing to increase them beyond what they already are. What is Wieseltier’s main problem with Obama’s foreign policy? That it is not dedicated to toppling the regimes of Syria and Iran. According to him, choosing not to back regime opponents as much as Wieseltier would like proves that the U.S. is “about to wane,” as if maintaining America’s position in the world were contingent on constantly overthrowing over governments. The U.S. isn’t “abdicating” in Syria. Abdication implies giving up authority or failing to fulfill a responsibility that rightly belongs to you. The U.S. possessed neither, and it shouldn’t aspire to “shape” or manage the outcome of Syria’s conflict.
I’m not sure that there is a great deal of “progressive enthusiasm” for Scowcroft or Brzezinski, but if there were it would not be so hard to understand. They are prominent former national security officials who publicly argued early on that the invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake, and they have generally had a better understanding of what advances the U.S. national interest than the hawks in both parties that can’t dislike them. No doubt some of the recent supporters of Hagel on the left are rallying to him for partisan and Obama loyalist reasons, but most progressives that support Hagel seem to be doing so because he is being attacked for holding views that they find appealing. Specifically, Hagel is coming under fire because he is wary of military action, skeptical of sanctions, interested in arms reduction, and open to some reduction in military spending. Insofar as progressives care about avoiding new wars, trimming the military budget, and reducing the number of nuclear weapons, they were always likely to find Hagel a welcome selection. There is nothing ironic about any of this.