Obama’s PR Foreign Policy
Talking points should conform to our national interest, not the other way round.



Jonah Goldberg

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including those of you with a sense of entitlement when it comes to these parenthetical gags),                               

The big news of the day doesn’t lend itself to excessive jocularity. Nor should it lend itself to partisan gloating. This is awful, awful, stuff.

I supported the Iraq war. But for at least the last half decade or so, I’ve said it looks like it was a mistake. I’ve said “looks like” not to weasel out of anything, but to simply acknowledge that things change. If after a wobbly start Iraq got its act together and turned into a stabilizing, democratizing force in the region, then it wouldn’t be a mistake. If it continued to slide into Iran’s orbit, possibly breaking apart en route, then the war would have been for naught. Sometimes you can’t get to a good place without going through a bad place first. That’s true in our own lives and it’s true of nations.

I truly believe that the Arab Spring and Iran’s Green Revolution were aftershocks of the Iraq war and that we could have advanced the cause of liberty if we’d taken advantage of those opportunities. I’m not saying it would have been easy or that more chaos wouldn’t have come with such efforts; I am saying that it was worth trying.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, believed the Iraq war was a mistake from day one and that conviction informed every foreign-policy decision he has made since. He has said, insinuated, implied, hinted, and shouted as much almost every day of his presidency. So invested in the Iraq war being a mistake — and so invested in received opinion celebrating his foresight — he has not merely acted on the reasonable view it was a mistake, he appears to have done everything he can to make sure it is remembered as a mistake for all time. The Left wanted the Iraq war to be Vietnam, and Barack Obama has given them what they wanted. All that’s missing now are the images of Americans clinging to helicopters.

Let’s Get the Spin Right and Everything Else Will Follow

The president deliberately let negotiations over the status of American forces in Iraq deteriorate until there was nothing to do but lament that we couldn’t work things out. Indeed (as I wrote in my column yesterday), his entire Iraq policy — his entire foreign policy — has been driven by a need to make it conform to his political talking points, rather than the other way around. There’s nothing wrong with presidents keeping their promises, but presidents have an obligation to do so with the stipulation that the national interest might diverge from what Jen Psaki can vomit up on Crossfire.

Consider the White House’s claim of “decimating” “core al-Qaeada.”

This is a metric designed to conform to talking points, it’s not an actual foreign-policy objective. Whenever someone points out that al-Qaeda has “metastasized” and controls more territory than ever, the White House falls back on the claim that we’ve taken the fight to those who actually attacked us on 9/11. That’s great, or at least it sounds great. But how is that a strategic objective? What does that do to further America’s interests?

If the U.S. had wiped out most of the Japanese generals who plotted the Pearl Harbor attacks, but Japan was still at war with us, would anyone say “Well, we can wrap things up now”?

As for the word “decimated,” I often wondered if they’re hiding behind the popular meaning of  decimated — i.e. “crushed” or “destroyed” — while keeping its traditional and literal meaning — kill 1 out of 10 — in their back pocket in case they need it to defend against the fact-checkers. Something like:

Carney: We’ve decimated core al-Qaeda.

Reporter: Jay, we’ve checked and most of the original al-Qaeda members are still alive.

Carney: I refer you to Webster’s dictionary. “Decimated” means to kill every tenth member of an army. We are well ahead of that standard. Frankly I think you should salute our rhetorical restraint.