Obama, Leading From Behind, Neocon-ism, and the Middle East

A few thoughts:

1) It has been amusing to watch conservative media outlets squirm with how to report on the fall of Qaddafi/Gaddafi/Khaddafy/pick-a-spelling. They love “freedom” in the Middle East (as long as we, ironically, get to force freedom onto nations), but they hate Obama and many thought the war in Libya was unconstitutional (to be fair, so did some liberals, but it was a much more of a mainstream opinion in conservative circles).

Steve Benen look at this in detail.

The Dish does as well.

2) Political hay aside, there are surprisingly many different foreign policy strategies in America today (Obama is trying out a relatively fresh strategy at the moment; more on this later), and it is possible to sort of aggregate them based on statements about Libya over the last few months.

– There is the traditional Bush Doctrine neocon approach, which can generally be summed up as “America must be proactive and public in supporting democratic/anti-dictator shifts/revolutions/coups” and one of the motivators of this theory is to be so public that America is given credit and affection for directly provoking/helping the change.

– There is the dove/libertarian approach of generally avoiding all war for fiscal, humanitarian, guilt, and entanglement reasons. The dove and the libertarian approaches are not exactly the same, but the overlap enough in this scenario to be sufficient.

– There is a hybrid neocon/libertarian approach that some conservatives have take lately, generally motivated by wanting to remain appearing pro-military while being able to criticize Obama as much as possible, and the people believing in this approach generally do so because they have no firm grounding/education on foreign affairs theory. There are too many contradictions among those holding this new position to list, but I’ll get to a few later.

– And then there is Obama’s approach.

3) “Leading from behind”

This is what Obama’s middle east strategy is being called (by those carrying it out). It is easy to use the phrase to make Obama sound weak, but the phrase makes sense when explained and the theory is sound.

I’m going to toot my own horn a little bit now.

In my second semester of college I took a comparative politics course. We looked at government/politics in Britain, Iran, Russia, and the Anarchy movement in the US at the turn of the 20th century. As you may surmise, the class encouraged comparing the different systems and histories to make larger connections and conclusions.

For our end of semester paper, I chose to answer an essay question about revolutions, looking at the Thatcher revolution in Britain and the Iranian revolution of 1979 to lessons about how US policy should position itself.

Without getting into too much detail, the subtitle of the paper was “A look at why past examples of revolutionary politics should caution the United States against future interventionist policies” and the thrust of the argument was the revolutions need internal legitimacy, which is to say that if a nation overthrows a dictator then they must be able to feel as though it was the will of the people, not the result of foreign provocation. Because if it is the result of foreign provocation then the legitimacy of the revolution will not be sustainable, and re-revolution year down the line is nearly inevitable (Iran is the easiest example of this, and we’ll see over the next decade or two if Iraq is able to survive without their own internal legitimacy).

Alright. Moving along.

Apparently the paper I wrote freshman year is essential now our foreign policy in the middle east. Sweet.

There have been many write ups about their strategy, but none have been as succinct (and therefore good for this blog post that was meant to be about 10% as long as it has become) as this tweet yesterday by Ryan Lizza:

Obama’s big idea on democr promotion is dem revolutions must b indigenous & that outside help can taint movements. Got balance rt in Libya?

I don’t know if they got the balance right in Libya. It’s too soon to answer. It mostly depends on whether the rebels push for a technocratic new government or if they just use the overthrow to set up their own military junta. I don’t know enough about the situation or region to even guess what will come next.

But the rest of the tweet explains the Obama strategy perfectly: “if the USA is too public about the affairs of fragile countries, it will “taint” the results”. It is the opposite of neocon-ism in terms of ideology and theory, though unlike the dove/libertarian approach both the Obama and neocon theories do have transformational end goals.

In case you are now asleep, we’ll move onto something a little more fun.

4) The main reason I felt compelled to write about Libya and the Middle East was because of a blog post at The Corner rife with half neo-con half libertarian theory straddling insanity. It was written by a guy that used to be a national security advisor to Dick Cheney.

It first goes gung-ho saying Gaddafi clung to power “through brutality and slaughter” and that his downfall will scare all other tyrants in the region:

…a major psychological blow has been struck against the region’s other tyrants who have sought to follow in his foot steps. The message has gone out: The effort to stand athwart history, and through blood and bullets deny the just demand of your people for a more decent, accountable government will, sooner or later, fail. The reverberations in Damascus will be loud and unsettling. You can bet that Assad’s head lies much uneasier today.

The sort of “auto-domino” effect is distinctly neocon. I believe there is more nuance (and gritty bloody hard-work) to ensure that the dominos keep falling, while neocon thinking often largely deals in broad “clean” clichés that sweep the ugliness under the rug. Regardless, the thrust of the argument is sound.

Then the author gets to the question of how Obama fits into all of this. And he begins to argue against himself.

The Obama administration can take some satisfaction in Qaddafi’s ouster. Yes, it moved too slowly in calling for his departure and, when it did finally act, its support for NATO’s campaign was far too tepid. As a result, the conflict was almost certainly prolonged and made more bloody than it needed to be, increasing the danger of turmoil, chaos and Islamist extremism’s ascendance in Qaddafi’s wake. Obama’s insistence on leading from behind further eroded already waning U.S. credibility in the region, and gave heart to other bloody-minded dictators like Assad to uncork fully their evil.

Ah. Neocon and anti-Obama thinking at it’s finest. They don’t mix well together. Apparently Gaddafi’s fall will scare the daylights out of Assad. But supposedly the fact that we allowed Libya’s rebels (and NATO) to take the lead in the ordeal in order to secure lasting legitimacy, instead of going in fast and strong and blowing things to hell, caused us to lose legitimacy in the region. And will embolden Assad.

I’m having a good chuckle right now.

To hear a neocon care about minimizing the loss of life during a revolution is patently absurd. Depending on which source you believe, at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians died due to the US (neocon) conflict in Iraq.

And now this guy has the gall to suggest that preventing a few hundred or even a few thousand deaths in Libya would have been justification for eliminating all internal and international legitimacy of the operation.

The most ridiculous aspect of neocon-ism is that it seems to be built around the desire to want to feel important in the world, rather than the desire to have a more free and stable world. Neocons want to look at a country and be able to say “Fuck yea, Amurica did that. You’re welcome world”

It’s stupid. I enjoy having a President that doesn’t give a shit about getting direct credit for revolutions on the other side of the globe. The credit should, and needs to, go to the people of the country. Former SecDef William Cohen basically said the same thing on MSNBC second after writing this.

5) I would discuss some of the things Mitt Romney has said about Libya, but they are everything you would already predict them to be: scattered, incoherently erratic, arguing about ten different (and conflicting) lines of logic without saying what he actually would have done. He is such a joke. I’m loving that Huntsman keeps prodding Romney for having multiple positions on everything.

6) I received an A for that paper.

7) There is an odd divergence in how war deaths are viewed by neocons and by those that believe in “leading from behind”, that is worth discussing.

Neocon thinking on the matter can be summed up generally as “as long as deaths come at the hands of Amurican weapons, they are just and necessary deaths and should not be questioned”, but when they see internal rebel skirmishes such as in Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan it is apparently a travesty. The Obama-ists seem to look at it in the opposite way. Internal skirmishes are favored because of the legitimacy of fighting for one’s own freedom, and they see adding (mass) American troops to that equation as something that will basically make us the killers instead of rebels or regimes.

It is a big distinction, and both carry different conceptions of guilt. There is a cowboy/hollywood spirit to the neocon approach, of waiting to roll in to save the day. There is a blindly pro-military aspect of it as well, but I think that aspect is subconscious. O the other side of the coin, the Obama approach has a sort of parental spirit to it, of sort of “letting the kids fight it out” because you can’t save them forever so they might as well learn to fight and solve their differences sooner than later.

It is really too bad that the Presidential race hasn’t focussed on foreign affairs more, because this is a debate worth having and the citizens of the US need to start to decide which approach to use in the long term.

The grand irony is that conservatives favor tough love on a interpersonal/family level, while liberals would be more likely to attempt to protect their children from all harm. Yet the rolls are reversed at the international level.

8) Probably my last post for a few days. Obama is speaking about Libya at 2pm today (Monday) for anyone that reads this before then and is interested.


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