Nevertheless, he [Obama] remains uneasy about our intellectual exports. Like many men of the left, like most “realists,” he gives his attention first to the natives’ search for authenticity, not to their profound, often bulldozer-like, love affair with Westernization. That Libyans could be inspired by the ideas of freedom and democracy, and at the same time actually want the United States to blast the hell out of Qaddafi’s army, must be disturbing to one who has accepted some of the third-world critique of American imperialism. ~Reuel Marc Gerecht
Are we supposed to take this seriously? It “must be disturbing” to him? What evidence for this is there? Obama has supported the Libyan opposition, he facilitated and launched a military intervention on their behalf that has involved more than a little “blasting” of Gaddafi’s forces, and he has cloaked all of this in the rhetoric of universal rights. Yes, there appears to have been a passing phase when Obama hoped that anti-Gaddafi forces would prevail on their own, and that would have been better for the opposition and for the U.S. and our allies, but if he has been “disturbed” by any of this he has kept it well-hidden.
Do realists actually care about “the natives’ search for authenticity”? Anyone who has given these things much thought understands that anti-colonial movements could be intensely anti-Western and nationalistic, but also strongly in favor of Westernization as a means of modernizing and strengthening their respective countries. The Turkish national movement is one obvious example of this. There are traditionalists in any society that view nationalist modernizers and Westernizers with deep distrust and set themselves up as the arbiters of authentic religious and cultural traditions, but the same was also true in European societies as well. I have no idea what any of that has to do with realist foreign policy arguments, and neither does Gerecht.
There are all sorts of political movements that have been happy to receive the backing of outside forces regardless of whether their ideology and goals had anything to do with “freedom and democracy,” and Obama belongs to a liberal internationalist tradition that has aligned the U.S. with many of these movements over the decades. Indeed, quite a few have been happy to mouth all the right phrases about “freedom and democracy” to win outside support and then pursue very different agendas once they succeeded. The KLA didn’t give a fig for freedom and democracy as we mean it (except that it provided cover for Albanian nationalist majoritarianism), but they were quite pleased that NATO was attacking Serb forces on their behalf. By his own admission, Obama supported all of that. What would make Obama view Libya any differently?
All of this comes back to Gerecht’s most easily falsifiable claim:
President Obama has certainly seemed sincere, if not Kennedyesque, in his intent to save the rebels in the eastern half of the country from the depredations of the most Orwellian strongman in the Middle East. But his sincerity rests in constant tension with the core tenet of a developing Obama Doctrine: American hegemony is not a good thing, either for the United States or for the world [bold mine-DL].
This is painfully wrong. There is no developing Obama Doctrine, and it has no core tenets, but if one wanted to describe a core belief of Obama about foreign policy this would not be it. Obama doesn’t believe “American hegemony is not a good thing, either for the United States or for the world.” It would be welcome and shocking news if he did believe that, because he has never once shown the slightest hint that he does.
This is why every Republican hegemonist attack on Obama lacks credibility, and why it is going to be so difficult for any of the candidates making these attacks to land any solid blows. They keep mocking him as if he weren’t one of them, but he is. Perhaps they think Obama is giving hegemonism a bad name, or perhaps it is mainly an expression of partisanship, but whatever the reason it helps to explain why hegemonists are desperate to describe Obama’s foreign policy as anything else than what it is, namely a largely hawkish center-left expression of the same hegemonism to which they subscribe. In this case, Gerecht would have us believe that this is the product of a union of the elder Bush and Fanon. There have been some similarities to the elder Bush in the past two years, but on the whole Obama really is much more aligned with hawkish neoliberals within the liberal internationalist tradition.