Liberal foreign policy guru Walter Russell Mead almost gets at why it is that some in the military say, “we have a president but not a commander in chief,” a perspective that tonight’s news about bin Laden will not change.
What’s missing in Mead’s account, of course, is the ideological explanation. Obama is not just another “urban liberal” as Mead suggests.
Obama was trained intellectually in a far more bizarre corner of modern urban politics: the pseudo-left paranoid authoritarian milieu that included Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.
(Of course, this milieu has a significant distorting impact on what was once traditional urban liberalism, as the social base of that liberalism has been torn apart by immigration and economic restructuring that has turned the urban masses in far more desperate political directions.)
The result is not just that Obama has no strategic concept of how to wield American power because he needs, in Mead’s view, to “grow and change.” No, it is because fundamentally he is allergic to the use of that power.
The dominant meme in the authoritarian milieu that schooled Obama is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – in other words any opponent of US foreign policy is to be supported, whether Chavez or Castro or Hu Jintao. It is not necessarily that the people in this crowd actually support the suppression of human rights that is central to the survival of these regimes, although some go that far. Rather it is that they engage in a “willing suspension of disbelief” driven by their hysterical anti-American views. Thus, this crowd is incapable of articulating an independent critical view of US foreign policy that does not give comfort to Hamas, Hezbollah or Ahmedinijad.
The result when someone from this milieu ends up in the West Wing?
Obama staffers suggesting to the New Yorker that “leading from behind” is a virtue, with a straight face apparently.
Or, when the government of Haiti says we need massive and immediate US military help in the wake of an earthquake, Obama says no, fearing he will be labelled an imperialist.
Or, a national security council advisor who needs five hours to prepare for a single press event.
Or, starting a war against a brutal dictator who “needs to go” but not providing the resources to insure that he does go.
As Mead concludes: “Unlike George W. Bush, who liked to place large and even reckless bets, President Obama likes to hedge. If he puts four chips on black, he almost immediately wants to put three chips on red. He surges in Afghanistan, but time limits the surge. He bombs Libya, but vows to keep the boots offshore. This can look like a prudent step to limit losses; in some cases it may make bigger losses inevitable.”
The lesson Obama likely has by now painfully absorbed? Never apply for a job you really don’t want.