Barack Obama: Pragmatic Man of Principle or Just Another Neocon?
A note from the blog owner: Today I was planning to write a blog post entitled, “The Obama Doctrine: Practical Idealism” but before I could put virtual pen to virtual paper, I received a guest post from one of my regular readers and a former blogger in his own right, Hucking Fypocrites. Huck, no particular fan of President Obama, fairly captures the surprising situation the President finds himself in. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is becoming one of the most bellicose of Presidents, taking his predecessors two wars and upping the ante with a third one in Libya. And as I’ve said before, let’s not fool ourselves. We are at war with Libya and the turnover of responsibility to NATO today is next to meaningless as we are the prime mover and shaker in NATO. While I think it can be stated that Obama deliberates more than his predecessor and builds alliances faster, there is no doubt that the similarities in foreign policy between Obama and Bush cannot be ignored. Huck does an excellent job of spelling these out. Read and enjoy!
The term “Neocon” has been tossed around for the last ten years as an insult toward what was perceived to be an exclusively conservative republican ideology. Its subscribers include former Vice President Dick Cheney, political columnist Bill Kristol, and, if the rhetoric is to be believed, Adolph Hitler, himself. However, a seemingly new generation of Neoconservatives are emerging, led by none other than President Barack Obama, suggesting that the rhetoric of the past decade against Neoconservativism has been nothing more than partisan hypocrisy solely intended to paint the foreign policies of former President George W. Bush in a negative light.
While having been around for decades, the current Neoconservative ideology has been largely attributed to the policy think-tank known as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Its core principles are that American military might should be used in a preemptive fashion in order to propagate American values and strengthen American interests throughout the world. According to the PNAC:
“American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.
We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.
As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?”
Many in the old Neoconservative camp believed that was a good question, and believed that they had an equally good answer—“yes!” By contrast, many outside of the Neocon fold preached that American military might should not be used in a preemptive fashion, and that the United States had no business sticking its nose into the affairs of others in imperialistic attempts to tell them people how to live.
Just how did the Neocons propose to enact their “New American Century?” According to their website [Note the bold portions]:
• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
• we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
So how does Barack Obama play into all of this?
As early as 2002, the then Illinois state senator was extremely critical of sitting President George W. Bush’s foreign policies, all the while calling out some of the “armchair, weekend warriors” members of the PNAC because they had “shove[d] their own ideological agendas down our throats…”
But many of the Bush-era policies that state senator Obama once spoke out against, and indeed ran his presidential campaign against, are policies that President Obama has both championed and continued. And none of them have been championed louder, or more recently, than the Neoconservative ideologies that were once touted by anti-war advocates as evil and wicked. In fact, President Obama has enacted every one of the four key prescriptions laid out by the PNAC. Every. Single. One.
Take defense spending, for example. In his first two years in office, President Obama has twice proposed an increased budget on military spending. In his 2010 budget proposal (his first as president), Obama proposed a 4% increase on defense spending of the previous year. The $533.7 billion request topped what had been the highest level of US military spending since WWII. The next year, President Obama followed up that defense budget with an even higher proposal of $708 billion; an increase of 3.4%. Admittedly, the President’s non-Iraq defense budget was a mere $549 billion. However, that is still an increase of more than $11 billion from the previous record-setting year.
But Barack Obama’s Neoconservative tendencies have shown themselves on more than just military spending. As of Monday night (3/28/11), they have actually been integrated into his stated foreign policy doctrine. In his address to the American people regarding the United States military involvement in the conflict in Libya, the Commander-in-Chief fully embraced the Neoconservative ideology as he reminded us all of America’s “unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom” and how, “when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.” Some of the very same words you read above to defend some of the very same ideas of the Neoconservative PNAC.
So what are we to make of all this? Is Barack Obama a pragmatic man of principle who can adjust his ideologies and practices as the situation calls in order to get good things done? Or is he nothing more (or less) than just another Neocon, like those he spoke out against in the past? Has he truly brought about his promise of change to American foreign policy, or has he continued the Neoconservative policies of his predecessor that he once believed had “failed?” Ultimately, the onus to answer those questions falls onto his supporters and the anti-war demonstrators who had once compared Neocons to Hitler. Thus far, their relative silence (Rutherford excluded) has been as deafening as it has been disappointing.
But there’s always hope, right? — Hucking Fypocrites (3/30/2011)