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It Is To Be Expected

So why in the world is he choosing Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State when she was one of the loudest hawks on Iraq and threatened to obliterate 75 million Iranians? ~Matthew Rothschild

No doubt it’s because he thinks war with Iran should be a last resort! Snark aside, the answer is to be found in what I mentioned earlier today and in what I have been saying for well over a year. The very accommodating, consensus-oriented “pragmatism” many of his admirers find so attractive, in no small part because it was a departure from Bush’s governing style, is the same thing that makes him an unlikely candidate to revise policies and methods in dramatic ways. Besides, Obama is smart and sees what’s what–he knows that progressives are not going anywhere after eight years of GOP misrule and two years of a stalemated, ineffective Democratic Congress, so he knows that he can ignore them with impunity. The glass-half-full types will latch on to anything remotely positive and progressive that Obama does as the reason why progressives should stick by him, there will be a lot of talk about being “realistic” and there will be frequent reminders that “at least he’s better than Bush,” which will probably have the virtue being true.

This is how it begins: movements tie themselves to a President because he is the best chance they have had in ages of having their ideas heard and their agenda advanced, the President becomes in some respects identified with that movement even though his policies do not necessarily reflect many of their concerns, and the fate of the movement becomes tied in the mind of the public and especially in the mind of the opposition to his success or failure. Progressives will find themselves soon enough facing the same dilemma that movement conservatives faced with Bush, to whom the latter rallied when Bush was absurdly demonized as a crazy right-winger. Partisan team players who tried to stress all the ways that Bush was in line with conservatives in order to forestall conservative rebellions against him then found themselves in a ridiculous situation just a couple years later, as they also started to see the need to put distance between themselves and a failing administration. Suddenly the team players remember skeptical comments they made during the primaries from years before before the current President was nominated, which they then tout as proof that they “always knew” that Bush was no conservative. Something similar will probably unfold on the other side in the coming years.

All of the “Team of Rivals” interpretations of Obama’s reported moves seem off-base to me. If he really does bring Clinton into his administration, it will not be as a counterbalance to his own inclinations or as a sop to “centrists” or as a payoff to her, but it will be because the two of them are fundamentally in agreement about policy objectives. From the primaries, we can assume that they are in agreement. Their strongest disagreements were in foreign policy, but their disagreements over foreign policy were minute and process-oriented. They were differences of degree and style; she is probably not quite as crazy as her “obliteration” comment made her sound, and he is certainly not as reasonable as his supporters want him to be when it comes to the possibility of striking at Iran. All of the hawkish love being sent Clinton’s way recently echoes the convenient new respect interventionists on the right gave her during the primaries; it is their way of saying that Obama is proving to be as acceptable to them (and as unacceptable to the rest of us) as some skeptics have maintained all along.

So it is inevitable that progressives are going to be disappointed, and not just in the “politicians always disappoint their voters” way. That said, I think Rothschild might have been raising his expectations to dangerous heights if he ever thought that naming Kucinich to head the State Department was in the cards.

By the way, Rothschild also has an interesting link to a story providing some additional information on Brennan and Jami Miscik, Obama’s two top intelligence advisors during the transition.

Update: On the Iran question, obviously I agree with Alex Massie’s take:

Take Iran, for instance: as the world knows, Obama has talked a good deal about talking with Tehran. (Ignoring, conveniently, that there’s already a good deal of “dialogue” between Iran and the West). This is all very well and good. It would be a fine thing if Iran were persuaded to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Perhaps it can be. But what if it can’t? Obama has repeatedly said that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable”. That means military action remains an option. It is still – as you may say it must be – on the table. Which is to say that the goal of American policy has not changed, only the emphasis placed, perhaps, on the various possible ways of reaching that goal.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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