The Most Important Thing You Can Know About Obama

Daniel Larison looks back at Barack Obama's 2002 speech against the Iraq War, and substitutes a few words:

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war….A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Muammar Gaddafi. He is a brutal man….He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Libyan people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Gaddafi poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Libyan economy is in shambles, that the Libyan military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

Even with the simple substitute, this stands as a good and effective argument against American intervention in Libya, where our interests remain unharmed and we lack a compelling reason for involvement, other than Gadhafi's status as a bad dude.

That said, if there's anything notable here, it has less to do with the substance of Obama's message -- then or now -- and everything to do with the circumstances of his rhetoric. Again, here's Larison:

When there was political pressure in Chicago to speak out against a new war, that was what he did, and now that the pressure in Washington has been building to start a new war that is what he intends to do.

Of the many things written about Barack Obama, the most insightful remains this line from Ryan Lizza's 2008 profile of the then-candidate:

Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. [Emphasis mine]

This is the key fact about Barack Obama's presidency, and it explains everything from his approach to health-care reform to his embrace of the surveillance state. Libya, it suffices to say, fits the pattern.

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