Dana Milbank, the Clown Prince of the Washington Post, argues that conservatives are inconsistent when they accuse President Obama both of grabbing power domestically and being ineffectual on the international front. The argument is silly even by the Clown Prince’s standard.
Milbank concedes that “in theory, it is possible for Obama to rule domestic politics with an iron fist and yet play the 95-pound weakling in foreign affairs.” He adds, however, that “it doesn’t make a lot of sense that one person would vacillate between those two extremes.” Milbank concludes that conservatives have simply decided to criticize everything Obama does (or doesn’t do) and haven’t “paused to consider the consistency of their accusations.”
Actually, it is common for conservatives critics to compare the aggressive way Obama deals with his domestic opponents with the passive way he deals with America’s foreign adversaries. The difference in Obama’s behavior on these two fronts is ironic but not inconsistent.
Obama’s primary objective as president is radically to transform American domestic life. Thus, it makes plenty of sense that Obama would behave far more aggressively in domestic matters than on the international front.
Obama’s core stated foreign policy objectives are to keep the U.S. out of war and to transform America’s image from that of unilateralist bully to a nation that plays well with others. Thus, it makes plenty of sense that Obama would behave internationally in ways that most conservatives would find feckless and/or timid.
The real question for conservatives who note the stark difference between Obama’s domestic and international posture is not whether they are being inconsistent but whether they are missing a unifying theme. The unifying theme would be an ideological aversion to the United States sufficient to cause Obama to (1) push for the radical transformation of the nation’s domestic policy through unlawful methods and (2) weaken the nation internationally by declining to assert American influence or even willfully ceding influence, including to our adversaries.
The question, in other words, is whether Obama behaves as he does in foreign affairs because he is naive or because he understands how the world works and simply wants the U.S. to have much less say about it.
The fact that Obama effectively plays domestic hard ball might cause some to tilt — Milbank style — in favor of the second explanation. But there is considerable naivety in the substance, if not the style, of Obama’s domestic policy.