These days all US Presidents are War Presidents (part 3)

Summary:  Evidence accumulates that President-elect Obama will staff his foreign policy (now militarized to “national security”) team with advocates for the America Imperium.  This delights conservatives and repeats (perhaps unconsciously) the history of the Kennedy Administration.  Let’s hope it ends differently, without an expanded war and a dead President.

Despite the hopes of the Left, it was apparent that Obama would would be — like most American Presidents — a fervent War President.  The evidence was clear, as described in these posts:

Selecting Joe Biden as his Vice President was only the beginning, evidence that “Change you can believe in” meant “you cannot believe in change” (at least about America’s foreign policy).  Now we see it happen, if the rumors prove accurate.

  1. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, strong supporter of the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and the War on Terror.
  2. James L. Jones (General, USMC) as National Security Adviser –  See his bio in the NY Times and Wikipedia, and this summary of his views on our wars.
  3. Robert Gates, current and perhaps future Secretary of Defense (NY Times and Wikipedia bios).

From comment #1 by Seneca:  Res ipsa loquitur – which in this case can be paraphrased as “the appointments speak for themselves”  (see Wikipedia for more on this legal term).

Conservative joy

Of course, conservatives greet this news with enthusiasm.  For an example see “This Really is Amazing“, Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, 21 November 2008 — Excerpt:

Barack Obama’s signature issue in the primaries was his “good judgment” to oppose the Iraq war. He invoked this more than any other qualification in his early battles with Hillary Clinton. She may have experience, he’d charge, but she lacked the wisdom to oppose the war. Indeed, the whole Democratic establishment was somehow corrupt or out of touch for not opposing the war, according to the Obamaphiles.

So now Barack Obama is going to appoint Hillary Clinton to be the chief architect of his foreign policy. Moreover, he picked Joe Biden to be his running mate and “partner” in the White House explicitly because of his foreign policy experience and judgment. But wait: Joe Biden, too, supported the war. Meanwhile, at Defense, it looks like he will keep George W. Bush’s man, Robert Gates. Admittedly, Gates has always been more nuanced about the war than, say, Don Rumsfeld. But surely keeping Bush’s SecDef is not exactly what the anti-war Dems had in mind as “change we can believe in.” Heck, Joe Lieberman’s sitting pretty and he endorsed McCain.

It will be interesting to see how long Obama’s charisma can paper over reality.

… This could be a brilliant LBJ-esque way of getting opponents inside the tent peeing out, enabling him to do the very bad things some of us fear. Or, it’s a sign that he’s just a cynical, conventional, politician who brilliantly played his supporters’ idealism against them to get power. It feels a little weird to be rooting for the latter, but you get over it quickly.

How quickly will Obama’s anti-war supporters “get over it”?

Repeating history, again

Chapter 1 of David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest opens with President-Elect Kennedy traveling to meet with one of the giants of the post-WWII era, Robert Lovett.  Thus begins he construction of a foreign policy team of hard-line cold warriors.  Chapter 2 opens with his liberal advisers wondering if they have been conned.  With minor changes we could run it in tomorrow’s New York Times, changing the names, details (“Irish” becomes “Black”), and issues (“Cold War” becomes “War on Terror”).

If lower Manhattan Island and State Street (Boston) and the rest of the world of both Louis Auchincloss {novelist, historian} and John O’Hara {novelist} read of the Kennedy-Lovett meeting with considerable reassurance, the first sign that the man in the White House, though young, Irish and a Democrat, knew his shortcomings and that they could deal with him, then there was at least one man who learned of it with a haunting sense of confirmation of what he had always feared.

This was not someone who had run against Kennedy or opposed his nomination, but curiously enough someone who had worked very hard for Kennedy’s election and was technically his chief foreign policy adviser — Chester Bowles of Connecticut, liberal icon, whom Kennedy had so assiduously cultivated and pursued just one year earlier, and whose views on all matters of foreign policy Kennedy had seemed, a that moment , to share with such great devotion.

Now Bowles watched from a distance what was happening as Kennedy prepared to take office; his phone did not ring often, and what he knew about the Kennedy-Lovett meeting was largely what he read in the New York Times.

… If Kennedy was not exactly in the Acheson group {fervent cold warrior supporters} there was nonetheless an element of the hard-liner in him, as there was to almost everyone at that point; at best he was cool and cautious and not about to rush ahead of events or the current political climate by calling for changes in the almost glacier-like quality of the Cold War. He was the epitome of the contemporary man in a cool, pragmatic age, more admiring of the old, shred, almost cynical Establishment breed … than of the ponderous do-good types like Bowles, who talked too much and might lose you countries…

A history of modern American politics, at least about national security, could be titled “An Echo, Not A Choice.”

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

  1. About the Military, political, and strategic theory
  2. About President Obama – useful articles
  3. about America – how can we reform it?
  4. some Good News about America!

Posts on the FM site about the Obama Administration:

  1. How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other, 7 February 2008 — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
  2. A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012, 1 March 2008 — What is next in Iraq?  None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future.  Obama has been quite explicit about his plans.
  3. America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
  4. “Don’t Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart” by Tom Engelhardt, 21 November 2008

3 thoughts on “These days all US Presidents are War Presidents (part 3)”

  1. Wonderful quote from Halberstam — thanks for that!

    Res ipsa loquitur – “the appointments speak for themselves.” There’s no way, with those fire-breathers in the room, he could steer a kinder, gentler course.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have added this to the post. Here is the Wikipedia entry on this legal term.

  2. In the traditional Renaissance Commedia dell’arte, there was a stock character known as “The Captain,” a bullying Spaniard with a swaggering, puffed up style.

    In a Commedia revival, the Captain would probably be an American instead.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a brutal truth!

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