FM: John Whitbeck
For those who hope for a radical change for the better in America's
approach to the world if a Democratic president (and, in particular, the
"charismatic" Mr. Obama) were to replace George W. Bush, this Washington
Post op-ed offers a depressing -- indeed, terrifying -- reality-check.
*Obama the Neocon*
By Robert Kagan
Sunday, April 29, 2007; B07
America must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting
the ultimate good." With those words, Barack Obama
put an end to the idea that the alleged overexuberant idealism and
America-centric hubris of the past six years is about to give way to a
new realism, a more limited and modest view of American interests,
capabilities and responsibilities.
at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last week was pure John
Kennedy, without a trace of John Mearsheimer. It had a deliberate New
Frontier feel, including some Kennedy-era references ("we were
Berliners") and even the Cold War-era notion that the United States is
the "leader of the free world." No one speaks of the "free world" these
days, and Obama's insistence that we not "cede our claim of leadership
in world affairs" will sound like an anachronistic conceit to many
Europeans, who even in the 1990s complained about the bullying
"hyperpower." In Moscow and Beijing it will confirm suspicions about
America's inherent hegemonism. But Obama believes the world yearns to
follow us, if only we restore our worthiness to lead. Personally, I like it.
All right, you're thinking, but at least he wants us to lead by example,
not by meddling everywhere and trying to transform the world in
America's image. When he said, "We have heard much over the last six
years about how America's larger purpose in the world is to promote the
spread of freedom," you probably expected him to distance himself from
this allegedly discredited idealism.
Instead, he said, "I agree." His critique is not that we've meddled too
much but that we haven't meddled enough. There is more to building
democracy than "deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box." We
must build societies with "a strong legislature, an independent
judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and
an honest police force." We must build up "the capacity of the world's
weakest states" and provide them "what they need to reduce poverty,
build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, . . . generate
wealth . . . fight terrorism . . . halt the proliferation of deadly
weapons" and fight disease. Obama proposes to double annual expenditures
on these efforts, to $50 billion, by 2012.
It's not just international do-goodism. To Obama, everything and
everyone everywhere is of strategic concern to the United States. "We
cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless
we ensure that every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to
destroy." The "security of the American people is inextricably linked to
the security of all people." Realists, call your doctors.
Okay, you say, but at least Obama is proposing all this Peace Corps-like
activity as a substitute for military power. Surely he intends to cut or
at least cap a defense budget soaring over $500 billion a year. Surely
he understands there is no military answer to terrorism.
Actually, Obama wants to increase defense spending. He wants to add
65,000 troops to the Army and recruit 27,000 more Marines. Why? To fight
He wants the American military to "stay on the offense, from Djibouti to
Kandahar," and he believes that "the ability to put boots on the ground
will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now
face." He wants to ensure that we continue to have "the strongest,
best-equipped military in the world."
Obama never once says that military force should be used only as a last
resort. Rather, he insists that "no president should ever hesitate to
use force -- unilaterally if necessary," not only "to protect ourselves
. . . when we are attacked," but also to protect "our vital interests"
when they are "imminently threatened." That's known as preemptive
military action. It won't reassure those around the world who worry
about letting an American president decide what a "vital interest" is
and when it is "imminently threatened."
Nor will they be comforted to hear that "when we use force in situations
other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear
support and participation of others." Make every effort?
Conspicuously absent from Obama's discussion of the use of force are
four words: United Nations Security Council.
Obama talks about "rogue nations," "hostile dictators," "muscular
alliances" and maintaining "a strong nuclear deterrent." He talks about
how we need to "seize" the "American moment." We must "begin the world
anew." This is realism? This is a left-liberal foreign policy?
Ask Noam Chomsky the next time you see him.
Of course, it's just a speech. At the Democrats' debate
on Thursday, when asked how he would respond to another terrorist attack
on the United States, Obama at first did not say a word about military
action. So maybe his speech only reflects what he and his advisers think
Americans want to hear. But that is revealing, too. When it comes to
America's role in the world, apparently they don't think there's much of
/Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall
Fund, writes a monthly column for The Post. His latest book is
"Dangerous Nation," a history of American foreign policy. He has been
advising John McCain's presidential campaign on an informal and unpaid