Even more absurd is the idea that because these people support Obama’s Afghanistan strategy that now a slim majority don’t share the conception of morality advocated by liberals. What does that even mean? Neocons like Greenwald assume that the only people who could possibly oppose war are liberals. Such is the state of affairs on the right, I suppose. But even worse, to weigh someone’s morals on their support for war (and to call the lack of support immoral) strikes me as fairly awful. The old trick is to question someone’s patriotism, and that’s cynical and arrogant enough, but to define an entire group’s morality based on their belief that interventionist wars are wrong is absurd.
It is absurd, but what makes Greenwald’s article deserving of even more ridicule is the content of this “morality” that Obama and others are supposed to have embraced in the past. According to Greenwald, Obama “has held fast to a comprehensive model of right and wrong.” What model is this? He goes on:
It is the present-day liberal model, wherein right comprises those things accomplished or pursued without approval from the West and wrong covers most anything America and Europe hope to effectuate outside their own borders; right is that which strives for peace, even at the cost of long-term suffering, and wrong is any American act of war.
This is laughable. I can’t speak for liberals, but as I recall it is liberal internationalists who have been busily trying to do all kinds of things beyond our borders for as long as they have been around. On the whole, they believe in global interdependence and global governance more than even neoconservative globalists, and they have done a great deal of the disapproving of other regimes’ actions inside and outside their own borders. To this day, the illegal bombing of Serbia ten yeas ago remains sacrosanct for most liberals, and Obama endorsed it again in his Oslo speech. There were some honorable progressives who spoke out and opposed the bombing of Serbia as well, so I don’t want to overstate this, but by and large Kosovo was and remains a war that commands majority approval on the left just as Iraq has commanded it on the right. That was a case of the “responsibility to protect” and a defense of “human rights,” even though every premise for the military action was false, our government had no legal or moral authority to intervene in Serbia’s internal affairs, and the war greatly worsened conditions in Kosovo and throughout the region. The “morality” Greenwald attributes to liberals is not only one they would not recognize, but also one that has no basis in reality.
Historically, liberals have hardly been pacifists, and most of them today would have nothing to do with the “morality” Greenwald describes as theirs. Obama is even more hawkish than most liberals, as there is only one military campaign that he has opposed in his entire political career, and almost every foreign policy address he has given has been filled to overflowing with all the areas in which he thinks America must provide “leadership.” I think this is horrible, but there is no question that this has been the content of Obama’s foreign policy thinking for many years. There was nothing new in the Oslo speech to anyone who has been paying attention. Neoconservatives such as Greenwald are forced to caricature liberal internationalist positions because the latter are not all that different from their own as far as policy objectives are concerned, so they are forced to exaggerate or invent differences to make neoconservatism seem to be the only ideology around acceptable to the political class. Every liberal has to be portrayed as a McGovernite (and a caricature of a McGovernite at that!) to cover up the reality that liberal internationalists have largely occupied the policy and political ground on which Nixon and Republican realists once stood. In the meantime, neoconservatives have been dragging the GOP down a dead-end alley of increasingly aggressive confrontational policies. This has made the misrepresentation of rather boring, conventional center-left establishmentarians such as Obama crucial to maintaining the fiction that the GOP and the neoconservatives in it are the “serious” party on foreign policy.
P.S. I had not seen Michael Tomasky’s article making much the same point until after I finished this post. Tomasky observes the same thing I did:
The surprise — the happy surprise among conservatives, and the anger among some on the left — says less about Obama than it does about the presumptions of listeners in both camps.
Before Culture11 vanished into the ether, I had an article on Obama the day after the election that addressed the persistent habit people across the spectrum had in refusing to believe that Obama actually meant what he said on foreign policy:
Obama’s position on Israel and Palestine is a particularly apt example of how perceptions of the candidate’s policies diverge diverge wildly from his stated views. Some of his more progressive—and conservative—supporters want to emphasize the same ‘weakness’ on Israel that his critics want to prove. Trivial episodes—toasting Khalidi at a farewell party, having dinner with Edward Said, generic remarks about Palestinian suffering—are transformed into clues to understanding the hoped-for “real” Obama who will chart a different (i.e., a more “even-handed” or even pro-Palestinian) course in American policy. The same episodes are also cited as indictments alongside such equally meaningless things as Hamas’ so-called ‘endorsement’.
Both interpretations conveniently ignore Obama’s actual Israel policy positions, which mirror the Bush Administration in almost every detail, and Obama’s record, including his unequivocal support for Israeli military action in Lebanon in 2006. His antiwar supporters, who frequently tout his 2002 statement of opposition to “rash and dumb wars,” are unfazed by or unaware of his support for an equally counterproductive, rash and dumb war in Lebanon, just as his hawkish critics cannot or do not attempt to make sense of the fact that Obama is far more in agreement with them about Israel than he is with significant numbers of his own voters.
This process has been repeating for the last year. Whenever Obama reminds us that he is a hawkish liberal internationalist, neoconservatives and hawks gasp in amazement (and try to take credit) and many of his supporters express dismay at the “betrayal” they have experienced. It is understandable why some neoconservatives would want to treat Obama’s liberal internationalism as a result of “going neocon,” because as long as Democratic leaders adhere to something close to a pre-1968/post-1992 liberal internationalist foreign policy neoconservatism has no reason to exist, except perhaps as the distorted echo of liberal internationalism that it has always been.