The editors of the Washington Post, the diary of the prevailing Washington wisdom, are upset that President Obama’s interventionist aspirations are limited to making Syria safe for Syrians rather than for Syrian democracy as well:
N HIS second inaugural address, President Obama delivered a ringing pledge of U.S. support for American ideals around the world. “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East,” he promised, “because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
Just eight months later, the idealism is gone. In what may be the most morally crimped speech by a president in modern times, Mr. Obama explicitly ruled out the promotion of liberty as a core interest of the United States. Instead, he told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, America’s core interests consist of resisting aggression against allies; protecting the free flow of energy; dismantling terrorist networks “that threaten our people” and stopping the development and use of weapons of mass destruction.
No president should cite democracy promotion as the United States’s only core interest or even, invariably, its first priority. A superpower always must juggle competing concerns of security and commerce. But has a president ever boasted that promoting democracy will not be a core interest? To say that America cares more about the flow of oil than the rights of men and women is to diminish the U.S. soldiers and diplomats who have sacrificed to far higher purpose than Mr. Obama would acknowledge. It is to cede the exceptionalism argument to Vladimir Putin.
revealing the antipodal and contending forces in American foreign policy. America’s Hamiltonians continue to view the rest of the world as an opportunity for making a buck. That was alluded to as “protecting the free flow of energy” (read: oil). I wonder if the president recognizes the irony in a policy that seeks to foster the free flow of oil everywhere but here.
The Wilsonians continue to want to promote American values, in President Obama’s case diluted to safety from chemical weapons. Again, I wonder if the president recognizes the irony. If they had heard him the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia must have thought he sounded delusional. They don’t appreciate the fine distinctions between civilians killed intentionally with chemical weapons and those killed unintentionally but inevitably by drones, the distinction between Bashar al-Assad and Barack Obama. Dead is dead. They are just different words for “death from the air”.
The Jeffersonians, what few of us there are, continue to be the well-wishers to the freedom and independence of all but do not seek to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
The fight is left to the poor Jacksonians who continue to be baffled that they’re not actually being allowed to seek victory.
That is perhaps the strongest argument for a universal draft. Putting the lives of their own children on the line might slake the Wilsonians’ enthusiasm for grand crusades. In an era of warfare by remote control even that would not be enough.
Meanwhile, I believe the Washington Post’s editors are wrong. The conflicting interests aren’t “the trouble with U. S. policy”. They are our strength. They prevent us from waging total war, shuttering our doors in isolation, or hurtling off, tilting at every windmill.