Laying the “Groundwork”

by Jonah Goldberg

Kevin Drum (with approval from Greg Sargent) lays out what  “real” motivation for criticizing Obama.

I wrote earlier today:

Lastly, what’s most infuriating is that if this ends “well” — say Qaddafi is killed by one of his own men in the next couple days or the rebels manage to assassinate him, or he flees to Venezuela, whatever — you know that Obama will take credit for leading this successful mission and he will be praised for his “leadership” by many of the same people who are now pretending they believe this fiction that NATO has taken over.


He writes:

It’s no surprise that conservatives are upset that Obama is taking the back seat in a military operation — even rhetorically — and allowing our allies take the lead. Given their peculiar worldview in which America is required to assert its superiority at all times and in all places, this is plainly intolerable regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Goldberg, in fact, views it as almost self-evidently impossible for someone else to be in charge.

But as bad as this is, what’s even worse is the possibility that it might work: it’s entirely possible that Qaddafi will leave or be defeated and that the rebels will win a victory that’s not viewed as merely another case of American imperialism run amuck…Obama is taking the risk that a limited military operation in Libya can succeed in the short term if American arms are brought to bear, and can also succeed in the long term as long as American arms and American interests aren’t viewed by the Arab world as the prime motivation for action.

[Note: In the original version of this post, I ascribed the following two paragraphs to Drum. They're from Sargent]

In addition to this, what we’re really seeing revealed here is that all the current attacks on Obama’s lack of leadership are partly about laying the groundwork to deny Obama credit should this mission succeed. For many conservatives, helping organize a multilateral response, as Obama has done here, by definition can’t constitute true American leadership as conservatives envision it ideally playing out on the global stage. Therefore, even if this mission works, Obama’s leadership can’t possibly have been responsible for it, because by definition he never showed any. Success must not be seen as vindication for Obama’s multilateral approach. Rather, the mission will have succeeded in spite of it.

Meanwhile, if the mission doesn’t work — which is perfectly possible, of course, given its widely-pointed-out flaws — Obama’s lack of leadership and weak-kneed insistence on multilateralism will be entirely to blame. Get the game?

Drum and Sargent say I’m playing a “game” and that I’m simply laying down the groundwork against Obama. It’s fairly typical of the way Drum writes about conservatives from what I can tell. But all I can do is give my word that I’m not playing a game. Or laying any groundwork.  I actually care about the policy at hand, which Drum grudgingly concedes with his tendentious musing about conservatives’ “peculiar worldview.”

Anyway Drum’s post is actually quite non-responsive. Does he deny that, should things go well in Libya, Obama will take credit for his leadership? And if that is the case, doesn’t that suggest that Obama is either lying now about not leading or will be lying in the future when/if he claims credit for his leadership? Also, Will Drum (and Sargent) not give Obama credit for his leadership should Nato, under Canada’s “command,” claim victory? I doubt that! And what about the White House saying today that responsibility for how this ends is “not on our shoulders”? Well if everything comes up roses, will those weasel words go down the memory hole or will they be still be valid? You see my point? Either America’s lack of leadership is true or it is a lie. It can’t be both, can it? I don’t think I’m the one playing a game.

And, as Drum clearly knows, Obama’s non-leadership is a fiction. He’s still in charge, even if he’s figuratively hiding under his desk. He will own the outcome in Libya whether it works out well (as I truly hope it does) or if it falls apart.

Now, of course, Obama may be lying for good cause. Leaders sometimes have to do that in foreign policy (don’t tell Julian Assange!). But one does not get the sense that Obama is lying in pursuit of a strategic goal, so much as he is hiding behind a choking fog of bureaucratic newspeak fanned by various unnamed “senior officials” to get out of a political mess he created for himself. Either that, or he’s trying to prove some point or set some standard that — while academically valid — has little utility for the challenge at hand.

(Oh, and for the record, unlike Kirsten Powers and to a lesser extent Charles Krauthammer, I defended Obama last night for intervening in the first place. I think the way he did it was both absurd and tardy, but he was right to do it nonetheless.)

I probably shouldn’t have said that the “most infuriating” thing is that Obama will take credit for the very leadership he’s refusing to admit should he luck out. It’s merely an infuriating aspect of all this — along with the hypocrisy, arrogance, etc. The most infuriating thing is that he’s gotten the policy so horribly wrong.

Still I do hope this policy works, because I think it is really, really, important that Qaddafy “go” as Obama said before he committed us to war  (not merely institute “reforms” as Obama  suggested after he committed us to war). My objection to Obama’s approach is that it makes that goal harder to achieve.

Update/Correction: As I say here  I made a hash of this post by including two paragraphs from Greg Sargent as if they were from Kevin Drum. I’ve bolded the two paragraphs and noted in brackets they’re actually from Sargent. I hope that clarifies things enough for readers. Digging back into the rest of the response to switch the Drums to the Sargents seems like it would be even more confusing.

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