Via RCP, somewhere Rand Paul’s watching this clip and nodding along. He and O share a common opponent, after all. Whom do you suppose Obama has in mind in these passages?
Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?
My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely. And, frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.
So if you look at Syria, for example, our interest is in helping the Syrian people, but nobody suggests that us being involved in a land war in Syria would necessarily accomplish this goal. And I would note that those who criticize our foreign policy with respect to Syria, they themselves say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops. Well, what do you mean? Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition. What else do you mean? Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria. Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike. So what else are you talking about? And at that point it kind of trails off…
The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again. Why? I don’t know.
He’s thinking of McCain, of course. It’s McCain who’s been after him for years to arm the dubious “moderate” rebel factions in Syria and it’s McCain who wants the U.S. to arm Ukrainians in case the Russian army rolls into Kiev. Obama even refers to the Sunday morning talk shows, where ol’ Mav is a stalwart, at the end. I’m tempted to accuse him of using a classic Hopenchange strawman here in equating calls for a more robust response to Syria and Ukraine with racing headlong into new military action abroad — and it is a strawman, as applied to some commentators. Is it a strawman as applied to a super-hawk like McCain, though? The first rule of super-hawkery, as far as I’ve gleaned, is that it’s never appropriate to cut your losses and retreat if things aren’t going well. The solution to any troubled intervention is more intervention, a sort of one-way ratchet on foreign policy. To retreat under fire is to abandon your allies in the field, a mark of dishonor. If that’s true, then Obama’s point about headlong adventurism isn’t wildly unfair; it’s unfair to more temperate hawks, who do allow for loss-cutting if things go bad, but not to people who follow the ratchet approach. Once you’re in, you’re in until you win. However long that takes.
It’s a sign of how little Obama wants to talk about Afghanistan and Libya these days that he doesn’t mention them here as obvious examples of his willingness to send in the military when necessary. And that’s not the only conspicuous omission. There’s a really obvious example of hawks accusing O of weakness and appeasement that, curiously, Obama doesn’t bring up in defending his approach to crises like Syria and Ukraine. Hint: It begins with an “I” and it’s a giant sore spot with our allies in Israel and our “allies” in Saudi Arabia. Why do you suppose he’s not so eager to talk about that one?