Obama Does Have
Once you see what he is
trying to accomplish, it all makes sense.
By Victor Davis Hanson
By Victor Davis Hanson
Wise People of American foreign policy — Madeleine Albright, General Jack
Keane, Henry Kissinger, General James Mattis,
George Shultz, and others —
recently testified before Congress. Their candid and insightful collective
message dovetailed with the worries of many former Obama-administration
officials, such as one-time defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta,
as well as a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant
General Michael Flynn. Their consensus is that the U.S. is drifting, and with it
the world at large: The Obama administration has not formulated a consistent
strategy to cope with the advance of second-generation Islamic terrorism. It is
confused by the state upheavals in the Middle East. It is surprised by the
aggression of Putin’s Russia and the ascendance of an autocratic China. Our
allies in Europe, much of democratic Asia, and Israel all worry that the U.S. is
rudderless, as it slashes its military budget and withdraws from prior
I think the symptomology of an ailing, herky-jerky United States is correct, the
cause of such malaise is left unspoken. The Obama team — with its foreign
policy formulated by President Obama himself, National Security Advisor Susan
Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, White House consigliere
Valerie Jarrett, Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, and present Secretary of State John Kerry — is not in fact befuddled
by the existing world. Instead, it is intent on changing it into something quite
different from what it is.
far from being chaotic, current U.S. foreign policy is consistent, logical, and
based on four pillars of belief.
Readjustments in the global order are long overdue.
exceptional postwar influence of the United States did not result in a fair and
just world and is thus in need of major recalibration. The use of military force
abroad in recent decades has almost always been mistaken, proving a waste of
lives and money, as it either has promoted the status quo rather than aiding the
deserving and needy, or has promoted only the interests of those who mouth U.S.
platitudes and falsely claim they are legitimate. The role of an all-powerful
United States is not always beneficial, as it sets global norms according to our
privileged tastes. For America to quietly recede and give other nations a chance
to direct their own affairs and become global actors would be far more
equitable, leading to a world that far better represents heretofore
unrepresented billions of people. Such transformation is always messy;
occasional violence and unrest are the price of equitable readjustments. Change
is always misinterpreted and mischaracterized by reactionaries whose interests
abroad are imperiled by any progress that leads to greater equality and fairness
and to the end of unwarranted hierarchy and privilege.
All nations and interests act rationally — if given a chance.
nature is not tragic but is better understood from a therapeutic perspective.
Most nations, in fact, interpret outreach as magnanimity leading to reciprocity,
not as weakness deserving of contempt. Evil is not inherent in the world because
of human failings such as timeless envy, jealousy, narcissism, greed, and
vanity. Rather, to the degree that evil is absolute and not a relative
construct, it is a transient condition and a curable symptom of poverty and
absence of education. Leaders caricatured and demonized as a Cuban Stalinist, an
Iranian theocrat, a Russian former KGB agent, and a plutocratic Chinese
apparatchik in fact think no differently from us. But they have too often not
been accorded a voice because the U.S. sought to bully them rather than reason
with them. Polarizing and out-of-date labeling such as calling ISIS or the
Taliban “terrorists” or “Islamists,” or reducing Bowe Bergdahl to a
“traitor,” serve no purpose other than to simplify complex issues in ways
that caricature those with whom we differ.
if we reduce our military profile and show other nations that what we are really
interested in is fundamentally transforming U.S. society into a more equitable
and fair place, our erstwhile enemies will begin to appreciate that we too are
human and thus share their common aspirations. Ideals,
persuasion, feelings, and intent are now the stuff of foreign policy, not
archaic and polarizing rules of deterrence, balance of power, military
readiness, and alliances.
Do abroad as we try to do at home.
legacy of Barack Obama will be found mostly in foreign policy and especially in
his forging of new ties with formerly ostracized regimes. Obamacare, the
doubling of U.S. debt, the anemic recovery over the last six years, the near
destruction of the Democratic Party at the state level and in Congress, the
alphabet soup of scandals — GSA, IRS, NSA, VA — are not the stuff of a
successful presidency, whatever the efforts of the solicitous media.
Accordingly, Nobel Laureate Obama logically sees that history’s positive
verdict on his tenure must come from abroad. He will normalize relations with
Castro’s Cuba and let others worry whether there is any reciprocity on issues
of longstanding disagreement. History will record the fact of normalization, not
transient details concerning human rights. Obama will bring Iran into the fold
of nations — its nuclear-weapons program soon accorded the status of
Pakistan’s. He will work with Islamic radical groups such as the Muslim
Brotherhood and Hamas, acknowledging their legitimate grievances and helping
them to forge a new generation of Middle Eastern leaders. He has not given up on
Erdogan’s Turkey as a logical bridge between Islamic and Western nations. He
has tried to reset relations with Putin and will try again, as he stealthily
promised President Medvedev before the 2012 elections. Israel will be accorded
the status of Switzerland or Belgium, a minor entity deserving of normal U.S.
relations, but not of extraordinary American commitments.
are two pragmatic foreign-policy themes here: First, there is nothing newsworthy
in working with our same old, same old allies like the Europeans, Israel, Japan,
Taiwan, Australia, and Canada, and reassuring them through our tired advocacy of
the boring mantras of free-market capitalism, constitutional government, and a
global order characterized by Western notions of rule of law and freedom of the
seas, trade, and communications. In contrast, assuaging rogue regimes earns
legacy headlines in the fashion of Kissingerian détente or Nixon’s going to
China. Second, the world at large and the Left in particular will acknowledge
and appreciate that Obama sought to flip the U.S. from being the bulwark of the
established global order to being a protester with the masses at the barricades.
If the power and influence of the United States is put on the side of global
hope and change, we will see fundamental transformation in the world abroad as
we have seen it at home. Contrary
to popular opinion, the Obama legacy will not be found at home but abroad, in
reordering the global role of the U.S. from an establishment power to a
revolutionary force for change.
Don’t sweat the details.
himself is a prophet, not a bureaucrat. The details of his grand vision will be
left to younger, fresher functionaries who can sort out the confusions of
implementation — why terrorism and Islamism are taboo words, or why trading
terrorists for the deserter Bowe Bergdahl was a wise idea, or why nothing really
happened at Benghazi, or why pulling all our troops out of Iraq had no effect on
the creation of ISIS, or why setting timetables for withdrawal from Afghanistan
does not encourage the Taliban, which is not a terrorist organization, and so
on. Sometimes these inexperienced idealists will fumble and will be embarrassed
publicly, but Obama himself will not intervene to correct the minutiae of
inconsistencies in the implementation of his vision. Once-in-a-lifetime
emissaries of change do not stoop to that. Who would have asked Mandela what was
his position on NATO? Who wonders about Gandhi’s attitude toward Israel? Prophets
are not like us and have no responsibility to articulate details or insist on
logical consistency, much less to worry about how others of less talent
implement their grand visions.
these themes in mind, and the last six years will make better sense. The Middle
East is not a mess, but a place in a needed stage of transition as it frees
itself from Western domination and a new order slowly emerges. To the degree
that we need a large military, it is preferable to envision it as an executive
agency for enacting social change without the clumsy impediment of Congress,
especially in terms of race, women’s issues, and gender preferences. It can do
the best work for stability abroad by shrinking itself. Terrorism is in the eye
of the beholder and always a relative concept that Westerners pathologically
insist is absolute. As far as the world abroad goes, China is a more authentic
enterprise than Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, which are the products of U.S.
Cold War nation-building in our own image, not of indigenous revolutionary
self-creation. U.S. Cold War culpability — in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa,
South America, Cuba — is a burden that must be addressed through various
means. The rules of nuclear proliferation are a Western construct. Israel is an
abnormality, a Western outpost of capitalism and privilege where it has never
really belonged, an irritant that should be treated like any other country as
much as politically possible. Latin American grass-roots socialism is not
Stalinism, but rather an extension of what Obama is trying to do at home.
think the world now seems a chaotic place only if you assume that the Obama
administration wished to be like its predecessors.
— NRO contributor
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover
the author, most recently, of The