What do neocons have to do with Obama?
President Obama may be a pragmatist, but he's now in charge of two fundamentally neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Page 3 of 3)
All these aspects of neocon foreign policy – its dualistic worldview, militarism, distrust of diplomacy, and aggressive tone – lead to its unilateralism. It's not a principled commitment, but rather a natural occurrence that doesn't worry neocons much. Obama, by contrast, views multilateralism as a crucial foreign policy tool, which works hand in hand with diplomacy.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Neocons believe that American security and moral obligations demand the US spread democracy. They argue simply that every person deserves the freedoms associated with legitimate governance and that democracies don't fight each other.
In practice, however, neocons often carve out exceptions to their democracy promotion. They didn't applaud, for instance, when the Islamist Hamas party won big in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Neoconservatism would be more coherent if it promoted liberalism and individual rights, and in nations that had little relationship to US security.
All modern US presidents speak about the spread of democracy, but politics is about priorities. And Obama has focused more on international stability and economic development. For instance, he recognized the legitimacy of Iranian leadership after an illegitimate election because he wanted to maintain a stable negotiating partner. And his support for Afghan and Iraqi democracy is best understood in the context of searching for long-term stability in those nations; he never mentions spreading democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Finally, neocons hold the "realist" view that the only relevant international actors are nation-states. Their answer to Al Qaeda involved wars to remake states that sponsored terrorism. Obama sees a greater role for international institutions and, more important, for global populations. His greatest foreign policy stroke thus far was his Cairo speech in June, which was directed more to Muslim people than Muslim governments.
After "change," Obama's second favorite word is "pragmatism." Obama's pragmatism prizes global stability. This represents his deepest disagreement with neocons, who desire stability abstractly, but believe it will be achieved only through short-term chaos and US willpower to install democracies globally. Obama separates stability and democracy promotion intellectually.
Obama has five gigantic fires to put out – Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iran, Islamic radicalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – all of which threaten global stability. Unlike the neocons, he doesn't unite his solutions to these challenges into a grand strategy to save mankind. The flexibility this affords is a good thing. Whether any of his policies will ultimately work is another question