I suspect we’ll be seeing quite a few comments along these lines as the Obama Administration proceeds. Of the three legs of the modern right-of-center stool – social conservatives, small-governmenteers, and foreign-policy hawks – it’s the hawks who almost always have the least to fear from savvy Democratic Administrations. And Barack Obama is nothing if not savvy.
Here’s a fearless prediction: On an awful lot of issues, the Obama foreign policy will end cutting to the right of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, which was already more center-left than left. Even with the GOP brand in the toilet, Republicans are still trusted as much or more than Dems on foreign policy, mostly for somewhat nebulous “toughness” reasons. So why give the Right a chance to play what’s just about its only winning card, when you can satisfy your base with a phased withdrawal from Iraq that’s scheduled to happen anyway while waxing hawkish on Pakistan, Afghanistan … and who knows, maybe Iran as well? (I have a sneaking suspicion that a President Obama will be slightly more likely to authorize airstrikes against Iran than a President McCain would have been.) Meanwhile, on detainee policy, wiretapping, etc. you can earn plaudits from liberals for showily abandoning the worst excesses of the Bush era, while actually holding on to most of the post-9/11 powers that the Bushies claimed. Obama already made fans of Niall Ferguson and Eli Lake; by 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s converted Max Boot as well.
And with his right flank safely guarded (assuming, of course, that Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran doesn’t become his Administration’s Iraq), he’ll have that much more political for the big-ticket goals that will guarantee his place in the liberal pantheon – universal health care, a New Deal for energy policy, a succession of young liberal judges who will tilt the Supreme Court leftward for a generation, etc. Among right-wing hawks, there will be strange-new-respectful talk about Obama’s centrist instincts, his Scoop Jackson-ish tendencies, his Reaganesque blend of idealism, pragmatism and strength. Meanwhile, the rest of the right-wing coalition will be getting steamrolled.
I think he overstates the case a bit — I’m sure Max Boot would have liked the McCain administration’s Iran policy better and much of Obama’s hawkery is likely to be spent on humanitarian interventions — I suspect he’s closer to the mark than my old boss Scott McConnell, who is optimistic that Obama will represent a clean break from Bush on foreign policy. The most thoughtful of the Obamacons — that is to say, the ones who weren’t just voting for fancy book writin’ and against “You betcha!” — were realists or noninterventionists who opposed the Iraq war and any sequels its authors might be planning. If personnel is policy, the last few days of rumors and announcements suggest they are going to be disappointed.