The Conservative Strawman Of Liberal Pacifism.

Via Matt Duss, Bill Kristol rubs his hands together over at the Washington Post and chuckles at the "similarities" between President Obama's Nobel acceptance speech and the State of The Union speech Bush gave in 2002. The implication is that Obama has somehow adopted the "conservative" value that violence in defense of the state is sometimes justified.

This kind of conservative self-congratulation is infuriating because it depends entirely on constructing a fictional universe in which liberals are all pacifists and that any moral case for violence -- even one that eschews violence as an ultimate solution -- is somehow conservative. So forget that Obama, in October of 2002, said this:

I don’t oppose all wars.

After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Indeed, conservatives have convinced themselves that anyone who opposes military intervention as a solution to every foreign policy problem (or, most recently, those who opposed war in Iraq) must be an abject pacifist, regardless of what they themselves have said. They inhabit an alternate world populated with people like Michael Ledeen, who wrote of Obama, "I think that he rather likes tyrants and dislikes America...he's trying to end American power in the outside world. He's saying 'I'm going to stop us, before we kill again.'"

If you actually look at the Obama who gave the above
speech in 2002, today's speech held few surprises in form or content.
It's not a "vindication" of conservatism -- it's an explicit rejection of
torture, of the refusal to engage in hostile regimes. It held praise
for international law and institutions as necessary to achieve, as Obama said quoting President Kennedy, "a more
practical, more attainable peace." Sure, some liberals are anti-war on principle, but this president has never been one of them.

Certainly, if you bought into the idiotic conservative caricature of him as a radical anti-American traitor, then yes, Obama's defense of war in certain circumstances would come as a surprise, as a kind of "vindication" of conservatism. This is one of the more infuriating aspects of conservative discourse -- one invents a caricature of one's political opponent and then congratulates oneself for having influenced an opponent's thinking when that caricature turns out to be false. All mundane positive aspects of life or politics become "conservative" in this context -- Obama's intact marriage and loving family is also a "vindication" of conservatism. Conservatism is "vindicated" when Obama mentions the constitution, criticizes a dictator, or praises the troops. And so on and so forth.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn't link to Spencer Ackerman's excellent piece on Obama's foreign policy last year

-- A. Serwer

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