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March 24, 2011

Obama, the Left, and Militarism

Upon supplying a surge of 30,000 ground troops in Afghanistan, our “anti-war” president, the Great Appeaser himself, has just embarked his country upon another war in the Middle East. Only those who choose to give our military’s invasion of Libya another name can deny that this is, for all intents and purposes, a war.

My point here is neither to endorse nor to denounce this latest exercise in America interventionism. Rather, it is for the lessons that this episode imparts that I draw attention to it.

The first lesson to be gotten from this is that, not unlike what appears to be the vast majority of his ideological brethren, President Obama has never been opposed to war as such. What he opposed at one time was “Bush’s war” in Iraq. In this respect, he is typical of “the anti-war” left. It is certainly true that he has angered no small shortage of his hard left constituents, but the tireless anti-war demonstrations that flashed across television screens during the Bush years, when Iraq alone was all the rage, are seen no more. Evidently, Barack Obama’s election sufficed to extinguish the passion that animated the demonstrators and their kindred spirits in the media alike during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House.

The second lesson is inseparable from the first: if the idea that President Obama is “anti-war” is a Democrat’s fiction, the idea that he is an “appeaser” is a fiction of Republicans. The language of “appeasement” is rhetorical. As any president – for that matter, any human being – knows all too well, there are times when appeasement is both necessary and desirable. At such times, however, we don’t call it appeasement: we call it compromise. But when his detractors refer to President Obama as an appeaser, I take it that what they mean to imply is that he is our Neville Chamberlain to the world’s Hitlers.

The distortion of history for political purposes aside, it should now be obvious that Obama resolutely defies this caricature. Even some of the very same people who accuse him of appeasement seem to acknowledge this when they at one and the same time recognize, correctly, that his foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from that of his predecessor.

The third lesson to be taken from Obama’s foreign policy pertains not just to the political character of the president himself, but of that of the left-wing to which he belongs.

That violence has long appealed to the left has been noted by more than a few historians of ideas. Paul Johnson and Thomas Sowell are two prominent contemporary examples who immediately come to mind in this regard. In their respective studies of “intellectuals” – by which they mean the left – both have argued that the frequency with which leftists at various times and places have been smitten by totalitarian dictators of all sorts proves that this attraction toward violence, far from being the idiosyncrasy of a few individuals, is endemic to the left’s vision of the world.

The leftist is a visionary. He dreams big dreams, not just for himself, but for humanity. But it would be a mistake to think that he is just a dreamer. The leftist genuinely believes that however long it may take, his dreams can and will become reality. Yet because untold numbers of human beings don’t share his vision of perfection, the leftist knows that his ends can be achieved only if he amasses the power needed to enlist the unwilling in the service of them. And given the grandiosity of his aims and formidability of the task at hand, this power, he also knows, must be vast.

What all this means, however, is that the politics of the left are patterned on the model of war. As Rahm Emmanuel rightly reminded his fellow leftists, no crisis should ever be left to go to waste, for during such times of crisis the government is permitted, and even encouraged, to grow in ways that would ordinarily be anathema to a free people.

Now, war is the crisis par excellence. When a people are at war, the government is expected to mobilize its citizens’ resources and channel them in a single direction, i.e. toward the end of surmounting the crisis, of winning the war. Leftists are well aware of this, which is why they not only conceive politics as an endless series of crises to be resolved, but insist on framing these “crises” in the idiom of war: the War on Poverty, the War on Racism, etc.

Indeed, since it is only through the conscription of citizens’ time, energy, and money that leftists can hope to realize the goals that they have imposed, we don’t exaggerate when we judge the left guilty of seeking to militarize civil society.

And we don’t exaggerate, then, in judging our current president to a militarist extraordinaire.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D., blogs at www.jackkerwick.com. Contact him at [email protected]

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