My column today is on a very familiar theme, particularly if you read my book The Tyranny of Clichés. Obama vowed he would have a “realistic” and “non-ideological” approach to foreign policy. In the Middle East in particular he said he would follow a “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.” Few in NR’s corner of the world ever bought this hokum, but lots of people did. What’s interesting — and vexing — to me is the fact that the conversation about Obama’s foreign policy still works on the assumption that he’s not driven by an ideology. When George W. Bush was in a political mess over Iraq, the claim that he was driven by ideology was everywhere. Even the surge, a practical response to a real world problem — that succeeded – was derided as just so much more neocon dogmatism. Meanwhile, Obama’s opposition to it was proof of his cool-headed rationalism.
Now Obama is doubling, tripling, and quintupling down on his ideological idée fixe of treating the war on terror as if it is doesn’t really exist. And yet no one in the MSM – nor even many conservatives — calls him an ideologue. They say he’s “cautious” or “overly cautious.” They talk about how contemplative he is, how eager he is not to repeat Bush’s mistakes. Blah blah blah. It’s all nonsense. Obama is every bit the ideologue Bush was, if not more so. It’s just that a core tenet of his ideology is to deny its ideological nature and cast his premises as facts.
Take Gitmo. One of his top priorities was closing the place down. Yes, he failed to do it. But he argued it needed to be closed because it creates terrorists. Does anyone think Gitmo played a significant role in inspiring the Islamic State? Anyone? I’m waiting.
He used a similar argument about our presence in Iraq. But would the Islamic State be more or less of a problem if we had kept troops in Iraq?
Obama shares an ideological obsession with the “international community” as if it is a tangible actor in global affairs independent of U.S. leadership. Do the facts support that? He insists that the simple fact we live in the 21st century confers some meaningful penalty on bad actors. To listen to Obama, the problem with Putin and the Islamic State and even China is that they don’t understand their interests as well as Obama does. If they would only listen to him when he says they are on the “wrong side of history” they would stop behaving in ways we don’t like. This is all from the titular deity of the “reality-based community.”
Of course, it can be hard to distinguish bad ideology from incompetence and indecision (Just today Obama said his goal is to “destroy” the Islamic State. But then he followed up by saying that means reducing the group to the point where it is a “manageable problem.” Go figure.). But a misguided ideological worldview is clearly part of what’s driving Obama’s failures and I think conservatives should be more vocal in saying so. Philosophically, this mess is about more than Obama. A whole approach to foreign policy is failing. That is an important lesson for the country to learn. Why let liberals contain the damage by putting all the blame on one man? Which brings us to a more partisan point. The Republican party had George W. Bush’s foreign-policy woes hung around their necks for a decade. Fair enough. Politics ain’t beanbag. But the same should apply to Democrats who have backed and celebrated Obama’s foreign policy for most of his presidency. It’s their foreign policy, too.