A Further Perspective

Obama Snookers the Right

After Oslo, looking for Mr. Smith in Washington.

By 12.15.09

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For the most part the audience at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony sat on their hands. They had expected one of Barack Obama's patented attacks on his own country as an explanation of how the U.S. was changing under his leadership. What they heard was quite different and quite confusing.

Subsequent commentary in the United States on President Obama's speech was equally confusing. Republicans were pleased by the theme of "just wars," while Democrats generally thanked their stars that their adored leader hadn't once again trashed his own country abroad. Of course the media exulted over Mr. Obama's ability to speak with clarity on matters they judged carried great philosophical import.

While the Nobel Prize audience was stunned by President Obama's defense of the use of military power to protect the defenseless and to correct injustice, most of the American public was simply surprised that they had waited this long for what since WW2 has been viewed as the basic principle of U.S. foreign policy. Conservative America adjudged that Barack Obama finally had awakened to the fact that the United States is a sovereign country with its own dominant interests rather than simply a member of a global affiliation of disparate entities whose sovereignty has been established by consensus.

Unfortunately such is not true: Barack Obama had made a purely domestic political decision. The writing was on the wall -- and in his military commanders' analyses. Without a minimum of 30,000 more American combat soldiers reinforcing the existing NATO force in Afghanistan (and a wish list of thousands more of NATO forces), the entire NATO position there would be insufficient to overcome the increasing Taliban capability to secure and hold a major portion of the country. What that meant to Obama and his left-wing anti-war advisors was that the traditional domestic independent vote would be lost in 2010 and, even more importantly, in 2012.

The one-term presidency was staring the White House in its face. The ultimately manipulative chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, saw it clearly and so did his pragmatic though ego-driven boss. The principal job was to hold on to the political initiative, reassure the center and make an explainable (to the Left) right turn. The authorization of the additional combat troops needed a philosophical base so beloved by the liberal Left.

The "just war" of FDR and Truman was resurrected and made relevant in the Nobel speech by hailing the precedent of Kosovo, the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the first Gulf War. Iraq was carefully ignored. Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo were tossed in as places that needed but hadn't been similarly handled -- to the detriment of international human rights.

It was a brilliant display (by Obama's speechwriters) of political legerdemain. In the end, however, it was really just a very clever shifting of ground so as to secure a philosophical foundation that would allow furtherance of a domestic program aimed at a massive federal intervention in traditional American business and social affairs.

The Right fell hook, line and sinker for the Obama rhetorical tactic. Indeed the performance in Oslo was politics at its most sophisticated. One step backward and two steps forward. Where have we heard this before? A great political device: The Left could be made to understand; the Right at the same time would be faked out of their shoes.

The Republicans, and most particularly its conservative wing, were bereft of a political response other than joining in the applause for President Obama's newly found international backbone. Obama is playing Chicago hardball while the Republican Party is locked in a titanic struggle on the tennis courts of Lake Forest. Guess who wins with that preparation?

Conservative America, and that includes independents, needs to understand that facing a possible seven years more of drastic political, economic and social change in the United States will totally alter the structure of the country. Leadership that is effectively as Machiavellian as the Obama team outpaces the old Washington politics of America's center and right wing. The Democrats have their "Elmer Gantry"; where is the Republican "Mr. Smith" -- or will it be Mrs. Smith?

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.