[dehai-news] The Next President and the Use of Force

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Sun Nov 02 2008 - 22:47:32 EST

The Next President and the Use of Force

Posted By Christopher Preble On October 27, 2008 @ 12:11 pm In Foreign
Policy and National Security, General, Government and Politics | Comments

Robert G. Kaiser shows [1] in today’s Washington Post what many of us
have known for some time: notwithstanding their differences over the wisdom
of going to war in Iraq, Barack Obama and John McCain may largely agree on
the wisdom of going to war in general.

Neither man wants you to believe that, of course. It behooves them to
highlight their differences, both to rally their core supporters, and to
make an affirmative case for why they should be chosen by the voters to
lead the country for the next four years. These differences are most
pronounced in domestic matters: in [2] fiscal policy and on taxes, on [3]
health care, and on [4] the benefits of international trade.

But, Kaiser writes, the two candidates share many similar views on national

    [B]oth have revealed a willingness to commit U.S. forces overseas for
both strategic and humanitarian purposes. Both agree on a course of action
in Afghanistan that could lead to a long-term commitment of American
soldiers without a clear statement of how long they might remain or what
conditions would lead to their withdrawal.

    Both candidates favor expanding the armed forces, Obama by 92,000 and
McCain by as many as 150,000. Both speak of situations when the United
States might have to commit its troops for “moral” reasons, whether or
not a vital American interest was at risk. Both accept what Andrew
Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and professor at Boston University, calls
the “unspoken consensus which commits the United States to permanent
military primacy” — shared, Bacevich said, by leading figures in both

Obama has worn his opposition to the Iraq War as a badge of honor. And
rightly so. His principled stand, taken at a time when precious few
politicians were willing to do the same, has allowed him to turn his
opponents’ (first Clinton and now McCain) supposed advantage — their
experience — into a liability, or at least a nullity. If experienced
politicians could make such a colossal blunder as to support a war that now
two thirds of all Americans believe to have been a mistake, then what is
the value of experience?

But the great unknown remains [5] the lessons that Obama has taken away
from the Iraq experience. Was the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein from
power a good idea, poorly executed? Or was it a bad idea at the outset,
further complicated by bungling in the Executive Branch? Obama has signaled
that he believes the latter, but some of his advisers seem to have more
confidence in their ability to pull off similar missions in the future —
say, for example, against the government in Sudan, as Obama advisers Susan
Rice and Tony Lake [6] suggested in late 2006.

Given the continuing influence within the Democratic Party of [7] the
so-called liberal hawks, there is even the disturbing possibility that a
President Obama would be more prone to military intervention than his

That said, John McCain’s continued strong support for the Iraq War is
merely one of many examples of his enthusiasm for using our military to
solve distant problems. He has adopted a similarly bellicose stance toward
North Korea and Iran, and has hinted darkly at a confrontational posture
toward Russia that could ultimately result in a ruinous military conflict.
In that respect, I wholeheartedly agree with Justin Logan’s deliberate
ambivalence in his most recent paper, [8] “Two Kinds of Change: Comparing
the Candidates on Foreign Policy”: “The best case that can be made for
Senator Obama’s foreign policy is the fact that the alternative to his
approach is Senator McCain’s.”

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the lingering effects of the Iraq
War will greatly limit the next president’s enthusiasm for foreign
military intervention. But nothing that either candidate has said during
this campaign gives me sufficient assurances that that is the case. Foreign
policy has generally been pushed aside during this long campaign, an
understandable shift given the current economic climate. But it is not too
late for both men to clarify their views on the use of force, and to
explain how they might differ from their opponent.

Article printed from Cato-at-liberty: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org

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