The Reluctant President
“…whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.”
It was a remark casually tossed into a Q&A session at the close of the two-day nuclear security summit in Washington, D.C. The President was responding to a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he whined, “It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them.”
Initially, the mainstream news barely noticed until conservative bloggers began criticizing the remark. The New York Times mentioned the quote in an analysis of Obama’s foreign policy that basically brushed aside previous blunders as a normal part of the learning curve. FoxNews had several articles on the quote but they tended to simply chronicle the reactions of Senator McCain or pundits. I heard the remark last night and caught Karl Rove’s respond on some talk radio interview I randomly caught while surfing the radio.
I’m not blogging about this because I merely wish to jump on the right-wing hate-obama-express, but rather because I have a different interpretation. Are Conservatives who say Obama feels burdened by America’s position as a superpower accurately gauging the President’s remarks or is the NYT’s closer to reality when they portray the remarks as “realpolitik.” I like to think of myself as a realist in life, work, and politics so when Peter Baker employed that word I had a reaction.
What is “realpolitik?”
Merrian-Webster defines realpolitik as “politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives.” Realpolitik is using situations and political attitudes to your advantage, much like a chess player. President Reagan, often demonized by the left, was a realist. He used Russian paranoia and economic weaknesses to American advantage to end the icy grip of communist oppression as well as 50 years of Cold War. I recall an interview with President Reagan in which he detailed a disturbing dream. Mr. Reagan was sitting in the Oval Office looking out that grand and famous window. Suddenly there was a flash and he saw a huge mushroom cloud rising. He concluded the story by saying he was determined to never let that happen. Although Ronald Reagan may have been terrified at the prospect of a nuclear war but he was not willing to compromise American sovereignty or American strength. He knew with a very practical and realistic understanding of global politics that unilateral disarmament was not the way to rid the world of the nuclear threat.
A tale of two “ideologues”
This is where Reagan and Obama once again collide. Obama, like Reagan, seems to be gripped by a fear and hatred of nuclear weapons. Both despise their use and both desire to see a nuclear weapons-free world. And both set out to do something about them. On this basis I applaud both Presidents.
However, as most of us know, Reagan was a conservative president and Obama is a liberal president. And try as we might, there’s no denying that ideology colors judgment. President Reagan believed the most practical method of achieving this goal was to make nuclear weapons obsolete, while simultaneously using treaties and verification to reduce arsenals. He did not believe humbling America served any purpose and weakness certainly did not strengthen the nation’s negotiating position. Reagan stood on his stated belief of “peace through strength.”
President Obama has demonstrated that he believes the best way to achieve this goal is act humble, minimize American strength, and unilaterally renounce the use of nuclear weapons. It was only a few days ago that Afghanistan’s President Karzai stood up to our President and began anti-American rants. Obama backed down. This new treaty with Russia on the surface seems laudable, but how much has been given to the Russian advantage? How much has America compromised her security? In a week or two we’ll likely learn more. I hope the exchange has been equitable but I lack faith.
Obama has been very consistent in his foreign policy as far as I can tell. He has consistently treated strong traditional allies poorly or coolly while making strong overtures to our traditional enemies. I have this image of him with his outstretched left hand in “halt” posture toward our friends, like the UK and Israel, while his right hand is longingly beckoning in a “come-hither” posture toward the Arab world.
1980 Reagan Campaign Ad
It’s all about the underlying ideology – stupid
Returning to my thesis… Why is John McCain shocked that President Obama does not want America to be a superpower? During the 2008 campaign there was an image of Barack Obama exiting his jet with a book in his hand. Obama appears to be an avid reader and in the course of the campaign I noticed he was often reading. I was very interested in what he was reading because what you allow people to see you reading tells something about who you are. This is especially true during a presidential campaign. I read both liberal and conservative authors because I am a firm believer in knowing your enemy as well as understanding both sides of an issue. If I were running for public office, though, I would likely hide or refrain from reading books that are negative or appear to be negative about America. Obama did not.
In the midst of the campaign, Senator Obama was reading and allowing himself to be photographed holding The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria claims the book is less about the fall of America than the rise of the “rest of everyone else” however the book makes the case that America is on the decline.
My point is not whether Obama should have read a particular book. The point is, that it provides an insight, that when coupled with policy and actions, to an underlying philosophy or ideology. I believe we elected a President, perhaps the first President, that truly is not proud to be an American. He may be so hard left and so completely contrary to American economics and past foreign policy that it sickens him to be associated with it.
His wife recently referred to his home country as Kenya – not because he was born there – but because he feels uncomfortable as an American. Obama is a globalist. He is a socialist. His loyalties appear to be, first to ideology, then to this global citizen concept, and America and her vital interests fall somewhere around annoying obligation.
The President did not labor over those words yesterday. No they rolled out naturally, providing a candid glimpse at his view of American power in the world today. I think rather than betray a reluctance to act, they reveal a world-view where America is just one nation alongside Haiti, Chili, Sudan, Thailand, and Luxembourg. It is as if he were telling the world, Nothing special about us, we’re just like you, oh, and wait a few years our lifestyle won’t be as lavish either. And if we have to help out in a conflict, well then ok.
Your world-view determines how you react to world events.