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September 20, 2008 - 5:52pm

Barack Obama: Kinder, gentler neoconservative

posted by Howard B. Owens in Barack Obama, nation and world.

This is not a post telling you: Don't vote for Barack Obama. It's simply a warning that if you're one of those people with a bumper sticker that turns the "O" in Obama into a peace sign, you're mistaken to think Obama is the Peace candidate.

First, it's important to remember that while the Obama campaign has made much of his opposition to the Iraq invasion, the historical record suggests that Obama's position wasn't necessarily clear cut. Consider this post from Rep. Jim McGovern.

Talking about how he would have voted on the '02 authorization, Mr. Russert flashed a quote from then-State Senator Obama on the screen that said: "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know." In response, Senator Obama said it was probably the wrong time for him to speak out on the war.

I simply disagree. I don't believe there has ever been a wrong time to oppose this war.

Mr. Russert also reminded Senator Obama about this comment he made in July of 2004: "There's not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush's position at this stage."

Obama's has never said he opposed over throwing Saddam Hussein (taking out Saddam was also an unrealized goal of the Clinton administration).  He's only said it was "the wrong war at the wrong time," which isn't a ringing endorsement for peace.

He isn't necessarily opposed to pre-emptive war, as Robert Kagan, writing for Washington Post, makes clear.

Obama never once says that military force should be used only as a last resort. Rather, he insists that "no president should ever hesitate to use force -- unilaterally if necessary," not only "to protect ourselves . . . when we are attacked," but also to protect "our vital interests" when they are "imminently threatened." That's known as preemptive military action. It won't reassure those around the world who worry about letting an American president decide what a "vital interest" is and when it is "imminently threatened."

In the most dangerous post-Iraq conflict the U.S. faces, Obama has made it clear that he's ready to go to war with Iran.  This from The Nation:

But Obama has refused to rule out going to war against Iran, in the event that Tehran moves forward with its nuclear program in defiance of international opposition. Even if it was a grudging nod to political expediency, his June 4 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) impressed hawkish Jewish leaders. "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power... everything," he said, adding, "I will always keep the threat of military action on the table."

Obama has also said that if the U.S. had reliable, actionable intelligence on the location of Bin Laden, who is likely in Pakistan, he would launch a unilateral attack on the location, with or without Pakistan's permission -- a far bolder policy than even the Bush administration has been willing to pursue.

As for nation building, while Obama says he opposes "imposing" democracy on other nations, he's also said the U.S. has an obligation to spread freedom.

More from Kagan:

There is more to building democracy than "deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box." We must build societies with "a strong legislature, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, a free press, and an honest police force." We must build up "the capacity of the world's weakest states" and provide them "what they need to reduce poverty, build healthy and educated communities, develop markets, . . . generate wealth . . . fight terrorism . . . halt the proliferation of deadly weapons" and fight disease. Obama proposes to double annual expenditures on these efforts, to $50 billion, by 2012.

Writing for Reason, David Weigel notes that Obama's intervention tendancies are far reaching, writing, "He has called for, or retroactively endorsed, interventions in Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Sudan."

The senator believes in humanitarian intervention so deeply that he's already blundered by interfering in the affairs of troubled states. Two years ago, on his first senatorial visit to Kenya, his father's birthplace, Obama delivered a speech at the University of Nairobi that blistered the country's rulers for corruption. Graft, Obama said, is "a crisis that's robbing an honest people of opportunities they have fought for." The speech emboldened the country's opposition, which nearly won the 2007 elections. When reformers didn't win and rioting voters cried theft, Obama begged for calm. "Despite irregularities in the vote tabulation," he said, now is not the time to throw that strong democracy away."

Kagan also notes the Obama wants to do more than redeploy troops from Iraq to other hot spots around the world. He wants to increase the size of the military.

With the United States $11 trillion in debt, Obama wants to increase the Pentagon's budget.  Again, from The Nation:

Obama's foreign policy team uniformly dismisses the idea that the Pentagon's bloated budget can be cut, even though, not counting spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, it has nearly doubled since 2000 and is roughly equal to the military spending of all other countries combined. "Are we or are we not relying on the Pentagon for an increased role? Of course we are," says McDonough. "I don't see how, given the challenges we have on the horizon, we can talk about reducing Pentagon spending."

Democrats have spent six years blasting neoconservatives, but I'm having a hard time seeing how Obama is anything but a neocon.  He believes strongly in U.S. intervention abroad, in spreading democracy, in preventive attacks on rogue nations and in building up the U.S. military. While Obama preaches diplomacy, completely absent from his foreign policy pronouncements are any mention of the U.N. Security Council, and he seems quite willing to go unilateral, if in his judgment it's necessary.

How does any thing Obama say about America's role in the world differ from the positions of much derided neocons like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz?

But as I said at the start of the post, I'm not telling you to vote against Barack Obama.  John McCain is an imperialist hawk, as well. I'm just saying, don't be fooled into thinking Barack Obama is the peace candidate.

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