Not the Obama We Were Promised

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Ben Cohen
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One of the reasons I supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton was because I believed he would exercise far more restraint when it came to US foreign policy. I was never sold on his domestic agenda. His hazy rhetoric indicated he wouldn't do much to remedy the serious stuctural problems with the American economy, and he never really promised to do anything particularly progressive. But Obama had a record of pragmatism when it came to foreign policy - he had opposed the Iraq war - a major, major boost to his credibility and an indication that he not only had sound judgment, but a backbone.

Judging by his record in office, Obama has actually been far better domestically, and far worse from a foreign policy perspective. While he has utterly failed to reign in Wall Street, he managed to pass a significant stimulus package that stopped the economy falling off a cliff, passed a flawed but ultimately necessary health insurance reform bill, extend unemployment benefits despite the GOP's best efforts to kick millions of people onto the streets, and done much work to revive the function of governmental departments that were defunded and left to rot by the Bush Administration (like the FDA, the EPA and FEMA).

His decision to enter a third war in the Middle East without withdrawing from the other two is a deep betrayal of his promise to use America's military might sparingly. Not only has Obama failed to withdraw from Iraq, he has escalated the war in Afghanistan, and committed the US military to another conflict with no serious exit plan. Andrew Sullivan puts the Libyan intervention into perspective in a must read post on American Exceptionalism:

The Libya decision was a deep break with the essential argument for the Obama presidency - and that break is one that the Obamaites seemed not to grasp in their insular, secret and arrogant decision-making process. I fear it has already profoundly weakened the president's credibility and strength - and will become as big a burden to him as Iraq was to Bush. He now appears not only more distant from his campaign promises - but also more incoherent. More important, it is impossible to sustain the image of this president as the antidote to Bush when, in picking another Muslim civil war to intervene in - however differently frame - he seems to be Bush-lite.

For those of us who wanted him - and still want him - to succeed, it is a crushing disappointment.

The Libyan intervention may or may not be successful. History indicates it probably won't be, but we can hope for an outcome that saves lives and does not inflame tensions in the region further. Regardless, the process by which Obama took the country to war again has ruined his credibility as an alternative to the Reagan/Clinton/Bush doctrine of liberal interventionism. Especially after the extreme wrecklessness of the Bush Administration, we had hoped for a more conservative, rational use of American military power. Instead we got more war, more occupation and more spending.

This is not change we can believe in.