Obama's Fork In The Road

One suspects President Obama has been guided of late by Yogi Berra's famous remark, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."  Obama's equivocation in formulating a coherent policy toward Libya, Iran, and other Middle-Eastern autocracies whose populations have recently risen up is symptomatic of the antipathy of today's "progressive" politicians toward the United States' role in the world.  Of late, of course, Obama's world view has been "mugged by reality," and recent events, especially in Libya, have laid bare the reactionary nucleus of his and other self-styled progressives' thought processes. 

Modern-day progressives abhor American intrusion into the affairs of other countries whose rulers repress their populations, especially if those rulers lean to the left.  Just as prior to Pearl Harbor, American isolationists saw no role for the United States in assisting European democracies to defend themselves against Nazi Germany, so today's progressives believe the United States has little to offer repressed populations in the Middle East who now are attempting to exercise basic human rights. 

But unlike the isolationists, and even progressives of the early 20th century, today's progressives are motivated by a congenital suspicion of all things American, and an unshakeable conviction that unless United States foreign policy is guided toward facilitating redistributive economic policies, it has no claim to legitimacy.  They prefer for the government to focus inward, in order to turn the United States into a European-style socialist state, which would, among other things, have a European-style military, sufficiently starved of resources to exercise more than token influence overseas. 

Prior to Pearl Harbor, the isolationists advocated staying out of foreign wars and entanglements, in part because they did not see how either benefited us, and in part because they believed in smaller, less intrusive government, as contemplated by the Founders.  Their view was that foreign "adventures" necessarily require a more robust central government, higher taxes to support military endeavors, and have the potential to disrupt domestic economic activity and markets.  They were not motivated, as are the progressives, by anti-Americanism but rather, by what they viewed to be at the essence of America's founding principles. 

Similarly, America's most prominent early "progressives," best represented by Woodrow Wilson, believed strongly in American idealism, and the centrality of the United States to the establishment of democracies in parts of the world that had never known it.  Though Congress rejected American participation in the League of Nations, and a good deal of Wilson's idealism, at least Wilson stirred the idea that, inevitably, the United States is better positioned than the European democracies to promote and advance democratic ideals elsewhere. 

Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress would find Wilson's brand of progressivism offensive, despite their constant efforts to turn key policy decisions over to the United Nations and other international institutions.  They simply do not share what was Wilson's underlying belief in the fundamental goodness of America and Americans.  To the contrary, they see the United States as fundamentally unjust, founded in slavery and enriched by the exploitation of the world's resources, to live in a manner most people can only dream of, even though it is that "exploitation" that draws so many immigrants to our shores.  There is some irony in progressives' support for having the United Nations lead the way in dealing with conflicts overseas, because that support is not premised on Wilson's type of idealism, but rather, on a fundamental distrust of American intentions.  The United States, from their viewpoint, cannot justify inserting itself into struggles overseas, even as an advocate of the liberation of oppressed peoples, because what it has to offer is morally bankrupt.  So while today's progressives enjoy the freedoms and bounty resulting from the United States' "exploitation" of the rest of the world, they fail to fathom the irony in their posture of indifference to those who are not so lucky. 

In taking this stance, today's progressives have shown themselves to be the country's most reactionary political force.  They no doubt are oblivious to that, but it is indisputable that they would like to turn American foreign policy back to what it was between the two world wars, i.e. isolationist and largely indifferent to what is going on in the rest of the world.  Progressives' obsession with domestic economic policy results from their yearning for an economic transformation of the United States, to a European type socialist state, and what those states have incorporated of Marxist ideology.  In this respect, the progressives choose to ignore the obvious, that the European welfare state is an endangered species, and governments devoted to Marxist principles are on the verge of extinction.  Such states are anachronisms, suitable for display in a wax museum. 

In short, the progressives' reasoning and jaundiced view of the United States' role in the world have rendered them the fiercest advocates of "stability."  Only stability overseas, i.e. the maintenance of the status quo without intervention or influence of the United States, will permit them to expend the time and resources necessary to transfer the nation into what they have been pining for.  Obama's foreign policy is the culmination of this thinking. 

Obama refused to support the Green movement in Iran, pressured Columbia to reinstate a head of state forced from office because of his efforts to emulate Hugo Chavez, kowtowed to the Chinese on his visit there, and has been dragged kicking and screaming to support uprisings in the Middle East, because he believes he cannot "liberate the oppressed" at home if he has to devote resources and effort toward liberating people overseas.  He fails to see any connection between fostering more liberal governments abroad, and what is in this country's best and long term interests.

So as a post-Vietnam progressive, Obama finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place.  He wants to dial back the clock, to a time when people overseas knew their place, did not rock the boat, and did not rise up against despotic rulers.  Any other scenario will necessarily complicate his efforts to achieve what he hopes to achieve here at home, i.e. the adoption of the progressive agenda.  For him, "reality bites."

Of course, today's world will never accommodate Obama's longing for days gone by.  "Stability" as a policy objective is a dead letter and, if anything, 9/11 was the canary in the coal mine on that score.  Notably, it was the much maligned neoconservatives who were the first to realize this. Consequently, they were the strongest proponents of taking out Saddam Hussein and installing some form of representative government in the middle of a region in which that has for time immemorial been anathema.  The old paradigm, i.e. that stability serves our interests better than facilitating the creation of democracies overseas, has run its course.   Just as 9/11 spelled the end stability's usefulness as a guiding doctrine, the recent uprisings in the Middle East demonstrate the necessity of adopting a new paradigm. 

The United States should not fear this transition, notwithstanding the growing threat of radical Islam.  Rhetorically, the United States has expounded the necessity of repressive governments recognizing basic human rights as a condition of receiving more favorable treatment.  Though, in the past, this advocacy did not override America's emphasis on stability -- with the exception of Reagan's willingness to press the Soviet Union in varying ways until it collapsed -- there are only a handful of countries left that have not loosened, to some degree, their controls on personal freedom.  The natural consequence of this has been the growing acceptance of some form of representative government in nations that have only known despotism.  So notwithstanding stability, we are now witness to what we said we were after all along.  The United States has no choice but to deal with this transition, even though that achievement means the uncapping of pernicious actors who have America's downfall at heart. 

As distasteful as it may be for him, Obama is confronted with a stark choice, to live in the past with his "fellow travelers," or to deal with the fact that the world has changed since his most fundamental political ideas were inculcated in him.  His reaction to events in Libya is telling. He is torn between his "progressive" instincts, and the real world which, as president, he has no choice but to come to grips with as best he can.  Obama's performance to date suggests that, in foreign affairs, he doesn't have a clue where he wants to go.  For him, the fork is the entrance to a maze.  He seems oblivious to the fact that, unless he first decides where it is he wants to lead the nation, and whether the rest of us are willing to follow, whichever path he chooses will lead to a dead end.
One suspects President Obama has been guided of late by Yogi Berra's famous remark, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."  Obama's equivocation in formulating a coherent policy toward Libya, Iran, and other Middle-Eastern autocracies whose populations have recently risen up is symptomatic of the antipathy of today's "progressive" politicians toward the United States' role in the world.  Of late, of course, Obama's world view has been "mugged by reality," and recent events, especially in Libya, have laid bare the reactionary nucleus of his and other self-styled progressives' thought processes. 

Modern-day progressives abhor American intrusion into the affairs of other countries whose rulers repress their populations, especially if those rulers lean to the left.  Just as prior to Pearl Harbor, American isolationists saw no role for the United States in assisting European democracies to defend themselves against Nazi Germany, so today's progressives believe the United States has little to offer repressed populations in the Middle East who now are attempting to exercise basic human rights. 

But unlike the isolationists, and even progressives of the early 20th century, today's progressives are motivated by a congenital suspicion of all things American, and an unshakeable conviction that unless United States foreign policy is guided toward facilitating redistributive economic policies, it has no claim to legitimacy.  They prefer for the government to focus inward, in order to turn the United States into a European-style socialist state, which would, among other things, have a European-style military, sufficiently starved of resources to exercise more than token influence overseas. 

Prior to Pearl Harbor, the isolationists advocated staying out of foreign wars and entanglements, in part because they did not see how either benefited us, and in part because they believed in smaller, less intrusive government, as contemplated by the Founders.  Their view was that foreign "adventures" necessarily require a more robust central government, higher taxes to support military endeavors, and have the potential to disrupt domestic economic activity and markets.  They were not motivated, as are the progressives, by anti-Americanism but rather, by what they viewed to be at the essence of America's founding principles. 

Similarly, America's most prominent early "progressives," best represented by Woodrow Wilson, believed strongly in American idealism, and the centrality of the United States to the establishment of democracies in parts of the world that had never known it.  Though Congress rejected American participation in the League of Nations, and a good deal of Wilson's idealism, at least Wilson stirred the idea that, inevitably, the United States is better positioned than the European democracies to promote and advance democratic ideals elsewhere. 

Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress would find Wilson's brand of progressivism offensive, despite their constant efforts to turn key policy decisions over to the United Nations and other international institutions.  They simply do not share what was Wilson's underlying belief in the fundamental goodness of America and Americans.  To the contrary, they see the United States as fundamentally unjust, founded in slavery and enriched by the exploitation of the world's resources, to live in a manner most people can only dream of, even though it is that "exploitation" that draws so many immigrants to our shores.  There is some irony in progressives' support for having the United Nations lead the way in dealing with conflicts overseas, because that support is not premised on Wilson's type of idealism, but rather, on a fundamental distrust of American intentions.  The United States, from their viewpoint, cannot justify inserting itself into struggles overseas, even as an advocate of the liberation of oppressed peoples, because what it has to offer is morally bankrupt.  So while today's progressives enjoy the freedoms and bounty resulting from the United States' "exploitation" of the rest of the world, they fail to fathom the irony in their posture of indifference to those who are not so lucky. 

In taking this stance, today's progressives have shown themselves to be the country's most reactionary political force.  They no doubt are oblivious to that, but it is indisputable that they would like to turn American foreign policy back to what it was between the two world wars, i.e. isolationist and largely indifferent to what is going on in the rest of the world.  Progressives' obsession with domestic economic policy results from their yearning for an economic transformation of the United States, to a European type socialist state, and what those states have incorporated of Marxist ideology.  In this respect, the progressives choose to ignore the obvious, that the European welfare state is an endangered species, and governments devoted to Marxist principles are on the verge of extinction.  Such states are anachronisms, suitable for display in a wax museum. 

In short, the progressives' reasoning and jaundiced view of the United States' role in the world have rendered them the fiercest advocates of "stability."  Only stability overseas, i.e. the maintenance of the status quo without intervention or influence of the United States, will permit them to expend the time and resources necessary to transfer the nation into what they have been pining for.  Obama's foreign policy is the culmination of this thinking. 

Obama refused to support the Green movement in Iran, pressured Columbia to reinstate a head of state forced from office because of his efforts to emulate Hugo Chavez, kowtowed to the Chinese on his visit there, and has been dragged kicking and screaming to support uprisings in the Middle East, because he believes he cannot "liberate the oppressed" at home if he has to devote resources and effort toward liberating people overseas.  He fails to see any connection between fostering more liberal governments abroad, and what is in this country's best and long term interests.

So as a post-Vietnam progressive, Obama finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place.  He wants to dial back the clock, to a time when people overseas knew their place, did not rock the boat, and did not rise up against despotic rulers.  Any other scenario will necessarily complicate his efforts to achieve what he hopes to achieve here at home, i.e. the adoption of the progressive agenda.  For him, "reality bites."

Of course, today's world will never accommodate Obama's longing for days gone by.  "Stability" as a policy objective is a dead letter and, if anything, 9/11 was the canary in the coal mine on that score.  Notably, it was the much maligned neoconservatives who were the first to realize this. Consequently, they were the strongest proponents of taking out Saddam Hussein and installing some form of representative government in the middle of a region in which that has for time immemorial been anathema.  The old paradigm, i.e. that stability serves our interests better than facilitating the creation of democracies overseas, has run its course.   Just as 9/11 spelled the end stability's usefulness as a guiding doctrine, the recent uprisings in the Middle East demonstrate the necessity of adopting a new paradigm. 

The United States should not fear this transition, notwithstanding the growing threat of radical Islam.  Rhetorically, the United States has expounded the necessity of repressive governments recognizing basic human rights as a condition of receiving more favorable treatment.  Though, in the past, this advocacy did not override America's emphasis on stability -- with the exception of Reagan's willingness to press the Soviet Union in varying ways until it collapsed -- there are only a handful of countries left that have not loosened, to some degree, their controls on personal freedom.  The natural consequence of this has been the growing acceptance of some form of representative government in nations that have only known despotism.  So notwithstanding stability, we are now witness to what we said we were after all along.  The United States has no choice but to deal with this transition, even though that achievement means the uncapping of pernicious actors who have America's downfall at heart. 

As distasteful as it may be for him, Obama is confronted with a stark choice, to live in the past with his "fellow travelers," or to deal with the fact that the world has changed since his most fundamental political ideas were inculcated in him.  His reaction to events in Libya is telling. He is torn between his "progressive" instincts, and the real world which, as president, he has no choice but to come to grips with as best he can.  Obama's performance to date suggests that, in foreign affairs, he doesn't have a clue where he wants to go.  For him, the fork is the entrance to a maze.  He seems oblivious to the fact that, unless he first decides where it is he wants to lead the nation, and whether the rest of us are willing to follow, whichever path he chooses will lead to a dead end.

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