Robert Kagan, who’s been exceptionally generous in evaluating President Obama’s foreign policy moves (hopeful Obama’s human rights rhetoric signaled a change in policy, optimistic that Obama understood the need for victory in Afghanistan), reflects a growing frustration among those who have made every effort to improve the administration’s execution of foreign policy. He writes today about the false division between “realists” and “idealists,” but his target is the president:
The question today is: What constitutes pragmatism in today’s Middle East? Was sticking with Mubarak a pragmatic, realistic option? By the time the Obama administration got around to supporting Mubarak’s departure — after two years of “pragmatically” supporting him — he was already finished. His refusal to make even modest political reforms doomed him, and in the end it was the Egyptian people, not the United States, who pushed him out. Did the “pragmatists” want us to try to help Mubarak stay in power even as great numbers of his people took to the streets, and even as his own military refused to carry out his orders? Would that have served American strategic interests?
As a member of the Egypt working group that urged more decisive action in support of the anti-Mubarak forces, Kagan takes to task the self-appointed “realists” who were oblivious to the reality of historic change. He says bluntly, “It is not pragmatic to cling to the status quo in a revolutionary era.” In Yemen and Bahrain, where the outcome of uprisings is far from certain, Kagan warns that so-called “pragmatism” isn’t necessarily the safest course.
It is deeply ironic that the president who ran on a platform of change would be so reactionary. On domestic policy, Obama clings to Great Society statism and must be dragged into a post-Keynesian approach to economic recovery and fiscal control. On foreign policy, he’s treated popular revolutions ( most egregiously, Iran’s Green Movement) as annoyances that have only complicated his desire to do business with aging regimes. And in the Middle East, he seems stuck in an Oslo time warp long after the Israeli public, the PA and the Arab states have given up on “land for peace.”
Obama, who’s been lauded as an “intellectual,” is remarkably unobservant and uncreative when it comes to governance. In fact, his intellectualism seems to be a mere imitation of the liberal dogma that has dominated elite opinion for 40 years. Like the social science faculty of Ivy League institutions, Obama remains certain of his own beliefs — never able to come up with an error he’s made — and frozen in time. The world has marched on, and, realistically, it’s time for Obama to do the same.