Home/Daniel Larison/Obama’s Hawkish Critics and the Dishonest Charge of “Retreat”

Obama’s Hawkish Critics and the Dishonest Charge of “Retreat”

Peter Beinart misses something important here:

Why is Rubio accusing Obama of purposely sabotaging America’s well-being? It probably has less to do with Rubio’s analysis of international politics than with his analysis of Republican primary politics. Basically, he’s been Trumped.

It’s true that Rubio is now resorting to somewhat angrier rhetoric than he has used in the past. I think that’s because he’s lagging behind and is lashing out with increasingly desperate attacks. Whatever the reason for it, it doesn’t really apply to his foreign policy arguments, which are more or less unchanged since he arrived in the Senate. If he is now saying that “Obama has deliberately weakened America,” that isn’t significantly different from what he and many other hawks been arguing for years before Trump was in the picture.

Rubio has beenmaking what I call the dishonest charge of “retreat” against the administration for many years. By misrepresenting current policy as “retreat” and “disengagement,” he and other hawks try to dress up their more aggressive policy preferences as the normal and appropriate role for the U.S. in the world. Anything less than that will be denounced as “isolationism,” which is inevitably presented as a deliberate weakening of the U.S. position in the world.

Charles Krauthammer was one of the first to make a version of this argument when he claimed that the U.S. was “choosing” decline under Obama:

Facing the choice of whether to maintain our dominance or to gradually, deliberately, willingly, and indeed relievedly give it up, we are currently on a course towards the latter. The current liberal ascendancy in the United States–controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture–has set us on a course for decline. And this is true for both foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, they work synergistically to ensure that outcome.

The current foreign policy of the United States is an exercise in contraction. It begins with the demolition of the moral foundation of American dominance. In Strasbourg, President Obama was asked about American exceptionalism. His answer? “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Interesting response. Because if everyone is exceptional, no one is.

All of this is part of the foreign policy fantasy problem I’ve described before. Hawks can’t easily fault Obama for what he’s actually done, because in many instances he has done more or less what they wanted, and so they prefer to invent a record for them that they can ridicule without exposing themselves to criticism. If Obama can be presented as deliberately weakening the U.S., Rubio can distract from the fact that he has reliably supported the president’s unnecessary wars.

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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