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The Obama Doctrine
Whether it’s Libya, fossil-fuel production, or the national debt, the rhetoric floats high above the messy reality.


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Victor Davis Hanson

The Obama Doctrine is simple: Proclaim a utopian policy, and then pray that most of the people who hear it are Neanderthals who will ignore it. Having said one thing, doing quite another is not only thereby okay, but also absolutely essential. Keep that paradox in mind, and almost everything the president does makes sense.

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In foreign policy, the president demands, in hated George Bush fashion, that Qaddafi leave, soars rhetorically about human rights, seeks an exalted United Nations resolution to protect Libyans, and institutes a no-fly zone — and then hopes that someone goes beyond the U.N. sanction and removes the man President Reagan called the “mad dog of the Middle East” by doing the messy things that we would not. We damn violations of constitutional protections such as renditions, tribunals, Predator assassinations, Guantanamo, and preventive detention — and assume that some rather nasty folk will keep them all going while we look the other way. Iraq is an awful example and we should have gotten out in 2008; but apparently someone did not hear that principled message and stayed on to ensure a successful consensual government — and now a new Iraq is soon to be “our greatest achievement.” Khalid Sheik Mohammed was tried in a civilian court in New York in accordance with the rarefied jurisprudence of Eric Holder, Harold Koh, and Barack Obama — but only virtually so, as he still sits in his cell in Guantanamo, guarded by retrograde military types.

The Obama administration spends billions of dollars subsidizing green solar and wind power, subsidizing mass transit, subsidizing new hybrid cars like the Chevy Volt, pushing through cap-and-trade legislation in the House, and warning that the cost of electricity will skyrocket, that coal-fired energy plants will be bankrupt, that the Brazilians are to be lauded for developing offshore oil that we can now borrow more billions to purchase — and then ends up with gasoline over $4 a gallon in much of America. So the president quietly brags that we are producing more fossil-fuel power than ever before — omitting the disturbing fact that this was despite, rather than because of, his policies, since current leases were approved by his predecessors and are just the sort that Obama would now refuse to sanction. Bottom line: Obama talks up about green power, and hopes instead that those less progressive will develop (or, in the words of Energy Secretary Chu, “cook”) traditional energy over his objections. Yes, we prefer green power, but we also pray that some sinner ignores that gospel and instead produces non-green energy that we would not.

On health care, the president unleashes his community-organizing rhetoric about the huddled masses without care, the greedy insurance companies, the fat-cat Cadillac health plans — and so rams through a federal equality-of-result health-care takeover. He soon learns that millions of Americans believe it is both too costly and unworkable, and so the administration starts granting exemptions from it — now both over 1,000 in number and to many of those very groups and organizations that were the strongest advocates for Obamacare. The message? There shall be both a utopian new health-care plan in theory, and in fact plenty of ways for millions to get around it.

On the budget, Obama has run up in under three years almost $5 trillion in new debt — a figure that even he acknowledges is unsustainable. That’s why he trumpeted a new bipartisan debt commission, whose findings were as sensible as they were ignored. So this year the president still talks in Great Society tropes about a big government that can do ever more for the exploited, even as quietly he assumes that someone less liberal, at some reactionary moment, will have to deal with the consequences of his messy new $1.6 trillion budget deficit — and will either ignore or undo almost everything Obama has borrowed to accomplish since 2009.

The Obama Doctrine is a child of two worlds. Born in the rarefied upper air of utopian idealism and soaring verbiage, it must nevertheless descend to live on the polluted ground below. Obama accepts that tragedy, and so no sooner has he proclaimed a new vision for America and the world than he walks away from it — as rueful that his pure dream cannot come true as he is relieved that less pure others ensure that it cannot.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.



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