Media Blog

Kirchick: Obama the Isolationist

The always-worth-reading James Kirchick asks a good question about Obama’s isolationism: Why stop at Iraq?

It would have been one thing had Obama assailed the cost of maintaining America’s military presence in Iraq. After all, he has hardly made a secret of his opposition to the war, and has criticized nearly every aspect of its execution up to and including the successful surge in forces and counterinsurgency plan executed so masterfully by General David Petraeus. But Obama’s slight last month was not directed at the cost of stationing over 100,000 armed men in Iraq – an iteration of his oft-repeated line that there is “no military solution” to the conflict there – but specifically at reconstruction aid. That’s the money that goes to building schools, health clinics, government ministries and the like. In other words, Obama believes we should stop constructing the edifices (literal and figurative) of the sort of liberal society that was impossible under the reign of Saddam Hussein. Criticizing the continuation of an effort that he believes never should have started would at least have had the virtue of being vaguely principled, as opposed to a crude expression of isolationism.   
Why stop at Iraq? There is no limit to Obama’s admonition. He happened to choose Iraq reconstruction aid as the target of his ire because anything associated with that poor country has become unpopular with the American electorate. Yet the underlying logic of Obama’s statement is that we shouldn’t spend money on projects overseas if that money could likewise be spent here at home. Why not go after the billions of dollars we spend to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa? Why not attack the programs we spend on democracy promotion in some of the world’s darkest tyrannies? Come to think of it, why is the United States offering so much aid to cyclone-ravaged Burma, when those dollars could be spent on flood relief in the Midwest?