And I agree with Douthat that antiwar conservatives who are hoping that a Democratic president will fundamentally change U.S. foreign policy [bold mine-DL] are engaged in more wishful thinking than the most optimistic pro-lifer.
Certainly when put that way, it is hard to object to the conclusion, and on this point they’ll get no argument from me, but I do want to remind everyone that this isn’t what Prof. Bacevich said, and no one else in this recent debate on abortion has suggested anything of the kind. The hope that Bacevich has put in Obama is of such a minimal, grudging kind that it has been somewhat misleading to call the article an endorsement. Better than most, Bacevich understands the extent of the institutional support for the empire, and he understands that support for it transcends party lines, so he would not expect fundamental change from any future administration. Indeed, his original article is so filled with caveats about the flaws of Obama’s foreign policy that it is absolutely clear that absolutely everything hinges on his pledge to get most of our forces out of Iraq:
So why consider Obama? For one reason only: because this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival.
On Obama’s foreign policy, he says quite bluntly:
When it comes to foreign policy, Obama’s habit of spouting internationalist bromides suggests little affinity for serious realism. His views are those of a conventional liberal. Nor has Obama expressed any interest in shrinking the presidency to its pre-imperial proportions. He does not cite Calvin Coolidge among his role models. And however inspiring, Obama’s speeches are unlikely to make much of a dent in the culture. The next generation will continue to take its cues from Hollywood rather than from the Oval Office.
Beyond Iraq, Bacevich offers this suggestion:
Yet if Obama does become the nation’s 44th president, his election will constitute something approaching a definitive judgment of the Iraq War. As such, his ascent to the presidency will implicitly call into question the habits and expectations that propelled the United States into that war in the first place. Matters hitherto consigned to the political margin will become subject to close examination. Here, rather than in Obama’s age or race, lies the possibility of his being a truly transformative presidency.
One of my objections to this argument is that Obama’s “internationalist bromides” and “the habits and expectations that propelled the United States into that war in the first place” are all part of the same thing, and implicitly calling something into question is not nearly enough to dislodge these habits. A President who does not come away from the Iraq war years with a much more limited vision of the scope and reach of American power (and Obama clearly has not come to this conclusion) is potentially more dangerous than even the hot-headed old man who thinks that we are winning.