Barack Obama: More Hawk Than Dovetags: Reagan, Obma, Kennan, McGovern, Polner
This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.
In early 2010, one year after Barack Obama was inaugurated as President, the paleo-conservative American Conservative magazine asked me to write an assessment of how he would manage the country’s foreign affairs.
I concluded that, “but for a few crumbs here and there, antiwar views will rarely be welcomed by his White House. And when marginalized antiwar voters complain, the president’s men will remind them that they were told Afghanistan was a ‘necessary war’ and 'national security’ is everything. Plus ca change.”
Yes, there was Obama’s opening to Cuba and there was his major deal with Iran when he managed to stand up to Netanyahu and his American Jewish and non-Jewish sycophants. Otherwise, his hawk side has dominated his dove side, as when he talked about Russia and Ukraine, often sounding more like DC’s gang of war-lovers.
He escalated the permanent war in Afghanistan and Iraq, went ahead with the disastrous intervention in Libya, and relied on drones to assassinate thousands including countless numbers of civilians in the Greater Middle East. He did nothing when the US Navy twice played Russian Roulette in disputed territorial waters near the Spratly Islands while at the same time creating a ring around China which one day could very well lead to yet another failed American Asian war.
He abruptly fired the moderate Republican combat veteran Chuck Hagel without offering any serious explanation and appointed instead a Pentagon insider, a move which probably warmed the hearts of its analysts, clerks and mystery men and women, and also its generals, who have never defeated anyone in a protracted war since 1945 and, for all we know, may be eager to show they know how to “win.”
More ominously, Obama’s policies threaten nuclear-armed, nationalistic Russia with American weapons and troops on its borders and neighboring Baltic and Black seas. Would it surprise anyone if some future administration decides to place nuclear weapons on Russia’s doorstep and Russia retaliates, potentially inviting mutual catastrophe.
The Pentagon has recently proclaimed Russia as our Number One enemy, and the U.S. is building a cordon sanitaire around Russia. According to the New York Times, Secretary of Defense Carter has proposed quadrupling military spending in Europe in 2017, “the sheer size of the spending increase seems like a return to the Pentagon’s blank-check ways during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a budget pleasing to our Merchants of Death, the arms-makers. (“Endless money, the sinews of war, Cicero in Phillippics, V.25, astutely reminded us long ago but with obviously little persuasive power.) Will Obama fight the Pentagon on this, much as he allowed neocon elements in the State Department to openly take sides in Ukraine? Once our great hope for a different kind of foreign policy, Obama has, with few exceptions, capitulated to our home front warriors and their fellow travelers who truly exemplify Charles Edwards Montague’s hallowed adage: “War hath no fury like combatants.”
Ronald Reagan, who was largely ignorant about foreign affairs, went to Reykjavik, and after he and Gorbachev found common ground faced down his furious neocon critics. Nixon courageously traveled to Beijing. George Kennan and even Kissinger, no less, warned that Ukraine should never be tied to NATO dreams unless we were ready to fight a nuclear war.
As Obama prepares to depart to write his memoirs, oversee his presidential library, and await the judgment of history, and while his long-disappointed liberal fans now cheer ObamaCare and his final year of worthwhile executive orders dealing with domestic affairs, the rest of us have to wonder whether the seeds of future wars his administration has planted will come to fruition.
Then there is or was George McGovern. Largely dismissed today because he was swamped in the 1972 presidential race, McGovern, a WWII combat veteran, memorably spoke of America’s criminal adventure in Vietnam and leveled an unforgettable accusation against his fellow senators, an indictment which can be applied equally to the Establishment’s support for today’s wars, and tomorrow’s as well, whenever and wherever a new “enemy” is detected or invented.
“This chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across of the land—young men without legs or arms, or genitals. Or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure….”
So what might Barack Obama have tried as alternatives to war and intervention?
As commander-in-chief he might have demanded genuine financial accountability in the Pentagon. He might have tried to push hard for arms control, which is highly preferable to another nuclear arms race. He might have pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan and allowed Middle Eastern states and non-states and its religious groups to settle their differences in their own way and thus saving the lives of an incalculable number of Americans and Middle Eastern civilians.
He might too have explained why we’re still at war. Does anyone really know or even want to know, especially now when we’re on the brink of dispatching ever more “boots on the ground?”
And he might have dared recruit a different breed of advisors willing to support alternatives to the futile status quo. Given his popularity he could also have cultivated the building of peace-oriented coalitions from the millions who marched and worked against the invasions of Iraq and Vietnam.
Perhaps he saw himself as Lincoln, FDR, and George the First. Unfortunately, he was none of them, at least in foreign policy. While he probably meant well, soon after he entered the Oval Office he took on the coloration of the DC’s political elite and their sacred status quo. That will be part of his legacy.
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