Barack Obama, Neocon?

A friend and Power Line reader has been emailing me to express outrage at the Democrats’ inconsistency in supporting President Obama’s implementation of the Bush Doctrine. I asked him to write up a post; here it is:

President Obama’s September 10 speech announcing his intention to “degrade” and “ultimately destroy” ISIL in Iraq and Syria poses a huge political and ideological problem for the Dems and the left. The reason is simple: Obama’s decision to wage war amounts to an endorsement of the Bush Doctrine of preëmption and a repudiation of the most fundamental rationale for His presidency in the first place: opposition to the Iraq War and, in general, “wars of choice.” It is also a repudiation of the anti-war Democrats who opposed the Iraq War Resolution and, more broadly, of the left’s ideology on foreign policy. Obama’s plan to attack ISIL has already caused huge cognitive dissonance on the left, which can only increase over time.

Virtually no one, NO ONE, opposing the IWR on the left, including Illinois state senator Obama, opposed it because he thought Iraq did NOT have WMDs. The argument was that there was no “imminent threat.” Of course, the Bush administration never argued the threat was “imminent”; just the opposite — that we could no longer wait for a latent or cumulating threat to become “imminent” after the experience of 9/11 — because we might never know or know too late. That was the Bush Doctrine.

Obama’s defining 2002 IWR speech is here. It is a classic expression of neo-isolationism: we can go to war only after we’ve been attacked. No preëmption of latent threats before they are “imminent”. He even rejected humanitarian intervention as a rationale for the IWR or any war that was not in response to an “imminent” threat or a prior attack. His examples of “good” wars were all responses to being attacked: the U.S. Civil War  (Fort Sumter); WWII (Pearl Harbor); Afghanistan (9/11).

This is standard left-wing ideology, post-Viet Nam and post-cold war: let things get as bad as they can be before doing anything (“imminent”) or wait for Pearl Harbor, then respond — with a police action like the Global War on just one guy (Osama bin Laden)!  Anything else is a “war of choice”. 

Some honest voices on the center-left have objected to the massive contradiction between Obama’s “war of choice” ideology and his plan for ISIL. See, for example, Conor Friederdorf’s scathing Atlantic article immediately after Obama’s speech. It is a devastating comparison of the rationale for attacking ISIL with the debate in 2002 on the Iraq War Resolution — and not a flattering one for Obama. The title and subtitle are beautiful:

Obama Urges War in Iraq Despite Known Lack of WMDs
The self-contradictory rhetoric of a shape-shifting president…

This summarizes the point:

Didn’t Hussein pose a bigger potential threat in 2002 than ISIS does now? “ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East, including American citizens, personnel, and facilities,” Obama said. “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.” Nearly all of that could’ve been truthfully said about Hussein.

Bush said it.

Allahpundit also is devastating on the great Obama contradiction:

Obama isn’t responding to an “immediate” threat against the U.S. in hitting ISIS; he’s engaging in preemptive war to try to neutralize what will, sooner or later (likely sooner), become a grave strategic threat. It’s…like ousting Saddam circa 2003 for fear of what he might eventually do to America with his weapons program. Obama’s going to hit ISIS before cells nurtured in their territory hit us, and good for him. … If…Obama’s now willing to preemptively attack a brutal Iraqi enemy for fear of what he might do down the line to America and its interests, he should have also supported the war in Iraq in 2003. ISIS doesn’t have WMD either (we hope) and their nascent terror-state surely has a much shorter reach internationally right now than Saddam’s terror-state did. Why oppose Bush then if you’re willing to punch ISIS now? [emphasis added]

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Even Andrew Sullivan, probably Obama’s most enthusiastic and consistent supporter over almost 10 years, has concluded that “Obama [is] repealing a core pillar of his candidacy and presidency….Congress has effectively abdicated its democratic responsibility – and Obama is happy about that.”

Speaking of Congress, last seen successfully avoiding the kind of extended debate on a new war resolution that Bush insisted on and received, it is instructive to look at the rationales, such as they are, for those Dem congressmen and senators now supporting Obama’s ISIL non-war who also were against the Bush 2002 AUMF in the Iraq War Resolution.

There are 10 Senators who were in the Senate (or the House) in 2002 and voted No on the IWR and Yes on the ISIL authorization:

Boxer (D-CA)
Durbin (D-IL)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)(was in house)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Udall (D –CO) (was in house)
Wyden (D-OR)

In addition, the following Representatives are still in the House and voted No on IWR, Yes on ISIL:


Here is what they said in 2002 in justifying their “No” votes on the Iraq AUMF:

Nancy Pelosi:

I said that the intelligence does not support the threat that the administration is putting forth in Iraq, and that while there may be chemical and biological weapons, because they’re rampant in the region, there was no imminent threat that would justify our going to war. …

The point is, is there an imminent threat to the United States?

Carl Levin:

The resolution also would authorize the use of force on a unilateral basis, not requiring that there be an imminent threat, which is essential to using force in self-defense preemptively under international law…That would be a departure from the requirement in international law that the use of force in self-defense be for imminent threats.

Dick Durbin:

This resolution still authorizes a unilateral, go-it-alone invasion of Iraq. This resolution contains no requirement to build a coalition of allies behind us. …

We have always said to the world: The United States is not an aggressor nation…but if you threaten our territory, our people, our allies, our Armed Forces, you can expect the worst….No, we are a defensive nation. This new foreign policy reflected in the resolution before us is a dramatic departure from that. …

The argument is made that…[b]ecause we are now fighting terrorism, we can no longer wait for an imminent threat against the United States. We have to be able to move preemptively for what might be…a continuing threat. …

What does it mean? If you list the nations of the world that pose any threat to the United States…[i]t would not just be Iraq… One would certainly put Syria, Libya, and maybe many other countries on that list. [emphasis added]

What the President’s foreign policy is calling for is the right of the United States to attack these countries…without imminent threat. …

[T]his resolution says it is time for us…to argue we can preemptively strike Iraq or any other country before they pose a threat to the United States. That is a dramatic change.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard:

[T]he President has not made the case for granting him the far-reaching power to declare preemptive and unilateral war against Iraq.

There is no question that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous and unconscionable dictator with little regard for human life. And, there is no question that he must be disarmed and removed from power.

The facts presented thus far however, do not support the premise that Saddam is an immediate danger to our country.

I saved the best for last, the strident left wing Senator Barbara Boxer:

[T]his administration started out thumbing its nose at the Constitution and the role of Congress in terms of war and peace. This administration did not want to bring the debate on this war to Congress….They did not want the President to go to the United Nations. Indeed, they said he did not have to go there; he did not have to come here; he did not have to do anything.

“We have never pulled the massive trigger of our weapons on a nation that has not attacked us first,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, slamming her fist on a lectern. [emphasis added]

But compare and contrast; this has to be seen to be believed:

Her vote against the IWR was her “proudest moment” in the Senate. But now she enthusiastically supports preëmptive strikes against ISIL. In 2002, there was no “imminent threat” and Saddam’s atrocities were not our concern.

But NOW we have ISIL atrocities, like sex slavery and rape, so that’s it! No more questions. She isn’t even making the chicken hawk smear, as she did to Condoleezza Rice.

Maybe Boxer should recall this:

A Harvard study on practices against women during Saddam’s rule reported:

The Iraqi Government uses rape and sexual assault of women to achieve the following goals: to extract information and forced confessions from detained family members; to intimidate Iraqi oppositionists by sending videotapes showing the rape of female family members; and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Some Iraqi authorities even carry personnel cards identifying their official “activity” as the “violation of women’s honor”.

Amnesty International and other organizations also reported the following violence against women:

Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of “Fedayeen Saddam,” the paramilitary organization led by Uday Hussein, Saddam’s eldest son, have beheaded in public more than 200 women throughout the country, dumping their severed heads at their families’ doorsteps. Many families have been required to display the victim’s head on their outside fences for several days. These barbaric acts were carried out in the total absence of any proper judicial procedures and many of the victims were not engaged in prostitution, but were targeted for political reasons. For example, Najat Mohammad Haydar, an obstetrician in Baghdad, was beheaded after criticizing the corruption within health services.

At a minimum, both Obama and the congressmen who opposed the Iraq War Resolution but support the attacks on ISIL should be required to explain why the ISIL situation isn’t identical to Iraq, 2002. Why ISIL does not reflect the Bush Doctrine…why this one isn’t a “dumb” war. And how, even though ISIL did not attack us on 9/11 and had nothing, nothing to do with it…how there is no “imminent threat” to us…how genocide doesn’t justify intervention…how this time it’s so totally different. Because not Bush? Because Obama is a lightworker or something…kind of a god, ya know?

There are some exceptions to the general bobbing and weaving, double talking, sophistry, back flips and disingenuousness on the intellectual left. I cited two above but this is worthwhile as well, and notable for suggesting that Obama has outright betrayed them, as is this insisting that Obama is required to get a congressional vote. But will the left become all outraged? Will there be demonstrations? “Obama Lied, People Died”? Will the MSM be tracking various “grim milestones” as the intervention escalates? Even and codepink (who devastated Boxer on Twitter), while urging resistance, are nowhere as animated as with the IWR, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Most of the left has been largely muted or outright supportive of the ISIL war. As reported by RealClearPolitics, here is Jon Stewart:

Bush Obama is doing the right thing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein ISIL and Syria, even though it’s confused and chaotic. [edited for…clarity!]

Here’s Robert Kuttner endorsing, albeit half-heartedly, Obama’s assumption of the Bush Doctrine because…not Bush, I guess. And here is The New Republic on how marvelously thoughtful and reflective Obama is about all this, totally not poll driven. Power Line has already reported on the flimflam and double talk from The New York Times and from E. J. Dionne. These examples could be multiplied indefinitely.

Obama’s ISIL speech is a direct repudiation of his opposition to the IWR in 2002.  It is an implicit endorsement of the Bush Doctrine. Indeed, it is a direct repudiation of the basic rationale for his presidency from the beginning!

Yet there is little acknowledgement, let alone sense of shame, from the Dems, the left or the double-talking MSM. The only conclusion their cynicism, duplicity, and double-talking sophistry permits is that they are transparently partisan opportunists.