Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obama and Reagan?

Eli Lake, who writes on national security for the New York Sun, has written an interesting piece in the current issue of The New Republic. in which he argues that Obama is not the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter but rather that of Ronald Reagan (counter to the claims of Republicans like John McCain). What is that about, I wondered?

Well, one criticism of Carter was that he made human rights the dominant theme of his foreign policy, allowing friendly dictators like Somoza and the Shah fall in anti-American revolutions. Reagan, on the other hand, is celebrated for forging alliances with proxies to fight Communists around the globe, from Afghanistan to El Salvador; death squads and human rights were a concern, but secondary to the main objective.

Lake argues that - in the war on terror - Obama is much more likely to follow in Reagan's footsteps than Carter's. Lake points to the eminence of Randall Beers and Richard Clarke among Obama's senior counter-terrorism advisors.

Lake writes:
Both Clarke and Beers are lifelong national security bureaucrats who left the Bush administration in protest of the Iraq war. Both have offered private advice to Obama and might well hold top posts in his war cabinet. Clarke helped draft the campaign's counterterrorism strategy, and Beers contributed ideas for his August 1, 2007 counterterrorism speech. Both also have the trust of the party's antiwar base and have, in many ways, articulated the Democratic Party's most substantive critique of Bush's war on terrorism.
And what kind of advice do these guys give Obama?
Clarke and Beers in effect were drawing on a time-honored tradition of foreign policy...finding proxies to fight an enemy. [snip] It was a policy that manifested itself in U.S. support for the Nicaraguan Contras, Jonas Savimbi's insurgency in Angola, and the Afghan mujahedin. In a sense, the Reagan doctrine was a full-throated rejection of the Carter era. [snip]

So here we arrive at the central irony of the charge that Obama will revive Carterism: The two most important architects of his counterterrorism policy came of age at the height of the Reagan Doctrine, and that thinking continues to inform their strategy.
What does Obama have to say for himself, you ask?
Last November at a foreign policy forum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Obama said there may be "40,000 hard-core jihadists with whom we can't negotiate." He went on. "Our job is to incapacitate them, to kill them."

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