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Obama’s Faux Pragmatism
The president’s non-ideological foreign policy is not working.

(Pool Image/Getty Images)

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Jonah Goldberg

So much for non-ideological foreign policy.

When Barack Obama ran for president he vowed to be non-ideological. He was a pragmatist and a problem-solver. It wasn’t just that George W. Bush’s ideology was awful, ideology itself was a kind of sinful stupidity. “What is required,” Obama declared the day before his first inauguration, “is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.”

On foreign policy in particular, Obama had been singing this tune for years.

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No doubt partly out of a desire to distinguish himself from then-senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden — both of whom supported the Iraq War — Obama insisted he would do things differently. The Iraq War, he explained in a speech just weeks before he officially threw his hat into the presidential race, “stretched our military to the breaking point and distracted us from the growing threats of a dangerous world.” What was required instead was “a strategy no longer driven by ideology and politics but one that is based on a realistic assessment of the sobering facts on the ground and our interests in the region.”

At the time, it was an open question whether Obama’s opposition was in fact driven by his sober-eyed and realistic assessment of the facts or whether it was driven by ideology and politics. On the one hand there was a good case to make against the war based on cold, hard-headed reasoning. But there was also cause to suspect that Obama — a committed left-winger on foreign policy since college, who needed to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and other pro-war Democrats, had employed a political and ideological calculus to come to his position.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with being ideological. I do it every day. What sticks in my craw is lying about it to yourself or to the country. Insisting that you don’t have an ideology is a great way to advance your ideological agenda without actually having to defend your ideology. That’s why president Obama loves to say that he only cares about “what works” and what’s best for the country. I mean, who is against policies that work? Who doesn’t care about what’s best for the country? According to the president, the answer is always clear: Anyone who disagrees with him.

Nearly six years since he took office, the shtick is getting old. But if you want to keep insisting that Obama’s policies on health care, immigration, taxes, and foreign policy have nothing to do with an ideological or political agenda, well, bless your little heart.

More to the point, what has this “non-ideological” foreign policy gotten us? Despite enjoying more global goodwill than any newly elected U.S. president in modern history, Obama has overseen a shocking decline in America’s standing in the world. Everyone is mad at, or disappointed in, the United States.

Indeed, it is in this regard alone that Obama has made good on his repeated vows to be a force for global unity. Arabs and Israelis alike think he’s feckless (as early as 2011, George W. Bush was already more popular in the Middle East than Barack Obama). Europeans think he’s inscrutably unreliable. The famously pro-American foreign minister of Poland, Radek Sikorski, says that under Obama “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security.” More pithily, he’s called it “bull—-.”

Two years after the Benghazi attack, Islamists are doing cannonballs in our embassy’s pool in Libya. Just this week, the Islamic State beheaded a second American journalist. The Russian “reset” was more like a starter’s pistol for Putin’s race to reclaim lost Soviet territory. The Chinese are testing us more every day and the Iranians laugh at our so-called resolve. The Taliban is simply running out the clock on America’s withdrawal before it takes over Afghanistan, the location of what Obama frequently described as the necessary war. As Bret Stephens recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, Obama has expressed personal rage at only one nation: Israel. Why? Because the Israelis don’t sufficiently hide their contempt for Obama’s incompetence and his secretary of state’s haplessness.

Personally, I think Obama’s foreign policy is besotted with ideological and political considerations. But at this point it doesn’t matter because it has failed on the only terms Obama claimed to value: it hasn’t worked.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected] or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency, LLC


Meme Watch: Obama's Tan Suit
President Obama didn’t have much to say in a Thursday press conference about his strategy (or lack thereof) towards Iraq and Ukraine. But the Twitterverse couldn’t stop talking, and snarking, about his new tan suit. Here’s a look at a fashion meme to get you through a very, very slow August news week.
Obama’s tan ensemble was a departure from his normal presidential black or grey, and the chief executive was barely finished with his remarks — and presumably headed back to the golf course — before Twitter users weighed in. Here’s a look.
The parody account @BarackTanSuit quickly appeared and began commenting on the fashion commentary and popularizing the hashtag #YesWeTan for all things tan. By Friday, @BarackTanSuit issued this ominous challenge: “250 RT’S AND I WILL PETITION THE WHITE HOUSE FOR OBAMA TO WEAR ME EVERYDAY OF THE YEAR!”
“OK now that the suit is off the screen can someone tell us what Obama said” (HuffPost Media, @HuffPostMedia)
“President Obama is wearing a #tansuit this afternoon. That is all.” (Mashable, @mashable)
“He got that suit at Men's White House” (David Wyllie, @journodave)
“BREAKING: Steve Harvey lends President Obama his suit in a pinch.” (Image via Nate Boateng, @nateboateng)
“The Audacity of Taupe” (Jared Keller, @jaredbkeller)
“Something just looks off about the President’s new look, that suit looks like it belongs in a used car lot!” (Image via The Edge Radio, @TheEdgeRadioUSI)
"This is my desert camo suit." (Greg McNeal, @GregoryMcNeal)
“This suit is the boldest thing Obama's done in months. “(Hunter Walker, @hunterw)
“#Obama: ‘What were you guys thinking, sending me out in a tan suit!!!!” (Image via Bakshish, @Bakshish8)
“This is what happens when Obama bypasses Congress to purchase a suit.” (Philip Klein, @philipaklein)
“Imagine if Obama wore a tan suit after Labor Day. That would be grounds for impeachment”. (Garrett Quinn, @GarrettQuinn)
“I don’t care that Obama’s suit is tan. The problem with the suit is that it’s EMPTY.” (Michelle Malkin, @michellemalkin)
“Nothing says to the int’l community that Pres. Obama means business better than a tan suit.” (Image via @mdecambre)
“A Herb Tarlek suit would have been awesome” (Image via Nathan Wurtzel, @NathanWurtzel)
“It’s be cool if Obama announced real action against ISIS. It’d be even more awesome if he took the podium in a robot suit.” (Image via T. Becket Adams, @BecketAdams)
“I have to say, this was a bold fashion choice for the president.” (Image via Michael Deppisch, @deppisch)
“And you may find yourself in a beautiful Oval Office…” (Image via Doktor Zoom, @DoktorZoom)
“#YesYouTan until Labor Day!” (Image via Jennifer Bester, @jbester)
“Look, I have nothing against tan suits” (Image via Jake Tapper, @jaketapper)
“Going for the Obama ‘tan suit’ look at work today. And no, I haven’t got a plan for the Middle East either.” (Image via colin freeman, @colinfreeman99)
“Obama vows to defeat whoever made him wear this suit.” (Josh Barro, @jbarro)
“BREAKING: BARACK #OBAMA IS THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO EVER WEAR A TAN SUIT” (Image via Eric Wolfson, @EricWolfson)
“I see no problem with the suit.” (Image via John Dingell, @john_dingell)
“@VP I got your tan body suit, buddy” (Image via Cuffe, @CuffeyMeh)
“Yes this is @mattyglesias suit please no more suit questions" (Image via darth, @darth)
“#Suitgate sparked by @BarackObama breaking grey and blue rule.” (Image via Nine News Brisbane, @9NewsBrisbane)
“Hillary talked Obama into the tan suit to deflect pantsuit haters’ energy. It’s not the 1st time she’s pulled this” (Image via mjp3md, @mjp3md)
“Wonder what Hillary Clinton thinks of #YesWeTan” (Image via Sam Clench, @SamClench)
“omg wait till you see the suit Obama’s wearing today” (Image via delrayser, @delrayser)
Updated: Sep. 01, 2014

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