February 21, 2008
Given the rather grim prospects for antiwar voters this election, it is understandable why many look to Obama and think that they have found someone they can trust. But this is a mistake. It isn’t that Obama is wrong on Iraq, but that he has happened to be right about it basically in spite of his own foreign policy views. In his foreign policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last year, Obama said:
“In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.”
As I noted in a column last autumn comparing the universalist fantasies of President Bush and Obama, “There is no logical end to the list of foreign crises and internal political disputes that both visions compel the United States to solve.” Indeed, there is not one intervention, U.S. war or allied campaign except Iraq to which Obama has raised any objections in his career. In a Midwestern, Democratic state such as Illinois, it did not take remarkable political courage for a Democratic state legislator in 2002 to make the right call on opposing the invasion of Iraq. The senior Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, voted against the authorization resolution, just as did all but two Illinois Democratic House members. Illinois Democrats were among the most openly antiwar of any in the country. It required no great risk for Obama to take his position, and upon entering the Senate he did not lend his support to those in the chamber who opposed the war most fervently while actually in Congress.
When we see neoconservatives go after Obama and his advisors, it is tempting to want to defend them against baseless charges, and to the extent that we can draw attention to the accusations that Obama’s critics have been hysterically throwing at him over Israel, then we should do that as a way of showing their style of fearmongering and misrepresenting others’ views. But we shouldn’t forget that Obama marched in lock-step with the rest of Congress when Lebanon was being leveled in the summer of 2006, and he has bowed before AIPAC as abjectly as any public official ever has. We should remember the contempt Samantha Power has for what she calls “Copperhead isolationism” (a sort of double badge of honor from my perspective), and we should understand that an Obama administration will actually be even more inclined than his rivals to intervene in foreign crises that have nothing to do with our country. Obama frequently cites his opposition to the Iraq war as proof of his superior judgment in matters of foreign policy, but virtually nothing else he has said on the subject is in the least reassuring to non-interventionists and realists.