It’s a marked contrast to Bush, who let the Middle East grow mold for seven years [bold mine-DL] and then pressed Condi to hurry up and do something at a time by which players in the region knew she carried no weight anyway. ~Michael Tomasky

Is Tomasky kidding? From the context, it’s probably the case that Tomasky means “Israel-Palestine” or “the peace process” when he says “the Middle East,” but that’s hardly an improvement. One of the most tiresome things in Western media coverage of the region is the way in which Israel-Palestine becomes “the Mideast,” so that people can be taken seriously when they say that “the Mideast” is a place defined by violence and upheaval, when in fact most of the region is not. The region and one small part of it are not interchangeable, even if we are unduly preoccupied with that part. Neglecting the peace process didn’t mean that Bush was inactive or uninvolved in the region generally. This is the man who called Sharon a “man of peace” and backed his government to the hilt, whose Secretary of State chirped idiotically about “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” while half of Lebanon was reduced to rubble with his connivance and approval, and who, one may recall, launched a rather large invasion of Iraq. One could have only wished that he paid the entire region enough neglect to allow for the gathering of mold, rather than setting half of it on fire.

While we’re at it, let’s address this business of how “surprising” it is that Obama has been so active on the foreign policy front. Throughout the campaign from the earliest days, he made clear that he had a very ambitious agenda overseas (too ambitious for my taste), and during the primaries and at least the first half of the general election most of his main arguments against Clinton and McCain were on foreign policy questions. He talked quite often about rebuilding alliances, he announced his intention to address the world’s Muslims, and from the fall of 2007 onwards he made negotiations with “rogue” states a key part of what distinguished his foreign policy from that of his rivals. Obviously, his plan for partial withdrawal from Iraq and his earlier opposition to the war, whatever else I might say about them, were central elements of his candidacy, and they were crucial in catapulting him ahead of the party’s establishment candidate.

Tomasky said earlier:

His project is a new grand strategy that (in theory at least) reestablishes American moral authority in the world, uses it to build coalitions to settle disputes, and as a by-product makes the Democratic Party look a lot more like Harry Truman and a lot less like George McGovern.

This last sentence is just painful, and all the more so because I am quite sure that Tomasky doesn’t actually think the Democratic Party of recent years looks anything like George McGovern (more’s the pity). This phrasing endorses a Liebermanesque critique of most of the Democratic Party’s opposition to the war in Iraq, which Lieberman has desperately sought to portray as a repudiation of the tradition of Cold War liberalism. Just as the GOP has run every election campaign against the specter of McGovern from 1972 until last year, Lieberman has tried to solidify his position as a true inheritor of the Democratic foreign policy tradition by casting everyone else in the party as a new McGovern.

Republicans and Lieberman, who campaigned alongside them, tried to do this to Obama, but it was simply not credible, because to a large extent he had gotten up out of the so-called defensive crouch, and he began to speak and act with confidence on foreign policy and to take for granted that the Republicans were the ones who lacked credibility on the issue–because they did! Iraq had made all of this possible, and his early opposition to the war (however politically convenient it may have been for him in 2002) won him the credibility to claim foreign policy as an issue on which the Democratic candidate had the advantage. Having seen the two candidates’ responses to the war in Georgia, at least early on, and having seen how the two have responded to the Iranian election, we understand why Obama acquired the advantage. In short, even though he was still quite hawkish and interventionist, but he was not a crazy person, and most people could see that.

Most people also assumed that Obama’s lack of formal experience in national office and with foreign policy created a liability for him, and as a matter of conventional political perception this was true, which was why he selected Biden for VP. In practice, though, Obama has acted as if no such liability existed and has taken for granted that it was the longer-serving candidates who embraced the war in Iraq whose foreign policy views were the real liability. At the polls and on the substance, he was largely right.