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The Neoconservative Obama Administration

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President Barack Obama was far from candid when he announced the end of combat operations in Iraq in August — 50,000 troops and a large number of mercenaries remain — but in his speech he did nothing to hide his neoconservative outlook on the American empire.

This was not lost on leading neoconservatives, who tend to prefer Republicans. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, told a colleague that while he would have phrased the speech differently, “his basic response was: ‘All hail Obama!’”

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, wrote in his New York Post column, “President Obama did something amazing. He delivered — dare I say it? — a rather neoconservative speech, in the sense that neoconservatism has argued for aggressive American involvement in the world both for the world’s sake and for the sake of extending American freedoms in order to enhance and preserve American security.”

Just to be clear, the neocons were among the key architects of the war against Iraq in 1991, followed by the embargo that killed half a million children. That war and embargo set the stage for the 9/11 attacks, which were then used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq (an ambition long predating 9/11) and the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, American’s longest military engagement — all of which have killed more than a million people, wreaked political havoc, and made life in those countries (and elsewhere) miserable. Let’s not forget the drone assassination and special ops programs being run in a dozen Muslim countries. The neocon achievement also has helped drive the American people deep into debt.

Nice crowd Obama is hanging with these days. And that’s no exaggeration. Frederick Kagan, one of the top neocon brains and a signatory of the Project of the New American Century imperial manifesto, now works for Gen. David Petraeus.

The U.S. government has left Iraq a physical wreck and squarely in Iran’s sphere of influence, but Obama propagates the neocon myth that Iraq was a great success. Yet 3.5 million refugees show no signs of returning to their homes. It’s not the only myth he propagates: “Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11.” That left the clear implication that Saddam Hussein’s regime was involved in those attacks — which it was not. For Obama that is just the beginning:

But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century…. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.

People throughout the Muslim world must be cringing, since that is where U.S. “leadership” will be most felt. Of course, what Obama calls “leadership” others would call mass murder. It all depends on where you sit.

It’s not enough that the Bush and Obama administrations made messes of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama promises more. “And because of our drawdown in Iraq,” he said, “we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense.”

That means more Predator and Reaper drones shooting Hellfire missiles at so-called insurgents, who always seem to include innocent civilians. For the record, an “insurgent” is anyone who objects to U.S. troops or cluster bombs in his country.

Shaping others’ destiny

As though his speech was written by the neocon brain trust, Obama intoned, “We must use all elements of our power — including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example — to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that’s based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes — a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibilities of our time.” (Emphasis added.)

Again, the people in the Middle East and Central Asia may not interpret those words the way Americans do. “Secure our interests” is likely to be understood as “secure American access to resources” and “making sure the Chinese and Russians stay away.” “Stand by our allies” means primarily “defend Israel.” Americans may think that sounds benign, but in the Muslim world it means the U.S. government will continue to do everything to support Israel’s denial of the rights of Palestinians and its ability to intimidate its neighbors.

If people in the rest of the world would rather shape their own future, too bad. Obama has a date with destiny: “New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas.” Oops. Were foreigners supposed to hear that mercantilist line?

“As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction — we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people,” he wrapped up.

Here Obama reinforces the myth that those who wish the United States ill do so because they hate Americans’ freedom. He expects the American people to go on believing that, even though many in the government have concluded that anti-American violence is retribution for U.S. foreign policy, not hatred of our domestic liberties (those that remain).

“Throughout our history,” Obama concluded, “America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its links to our own liberty and security.”

That burden fell on those without power or influence, the deceived military personnel who were asked to kill and die for their country, and the taxpayers who footed the bill. For the politicians, generals, and military contractors, it wasn’t much of a burden at all. National narcissism

Nor is Obama the only member of his administration to hold neocon views. In fact, he may be exceeded in this by his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. At an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, she said,

And now, after years of war and uncertainty, people are wondering what the future holds at home and abroad. So let me say it clearly: the United States can, must, and will lead in this new century. Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American moment, a moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways, a moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination and devotion to core values — have never been more needed. This is a moment that must be seized through hard work and bold decisions, to lay the foundations for lasting American leadership for decades to come.

A new American moment — the national narcissism that underlies the necons’ Wilsonian evangelism hits new heights with Clinton’s words. Has it crossed her mind that perhaps other people might want to create their own moments without the help of American politicians who, while telling themselves how much they love peace, wreak havoc and misery wherever they go?

No, it hasn’t:

Now there should be no mistake. Of course this administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defend [sic] ourselves and our friends…. We are advancing America’s interests and making progress on some of our most pressing challenges. Today we can say with confidence that this model of American leadership, which brings every tool at our disposal to be put to work on behalf of our national interest, works, and that it offers the best hope in a dangerous world.

Clinton went on like that for some time, couching in the most hackneyed and pretentious phrases that hubris characteristic of those who never have grasped classical liberalism’s insights about spontaneous social and cultural order, and the natural resistance to outside elitist intervention.

“America,” she said,

has made generational commitments to building the kind of world that we wanted to inhabit for many decades now. We cannot turn away from that responsibility. We are a nation that has always believed we have the power to shape our own destiny and to cut a new and better path, and frankly to bring along people who were like-minded from around the world. So we will continue to do everything we can to exercise the best traditions of American leadership at home and abroad, to build that more peaceful and prosperous future for our children and for children everywhere.

America’s military, diplomatic, and economic power will, in Clinton’s view, remake the world, as though societies are created the way Lego villages are.

This is a far cry from what another secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, declared in 1821 — that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Let’s understand that the Obama-Clinton program continues their predecessors’ imperial blueprint for unlimited government — to be precise, executive — power. The Obama administration again demonstrates that while presidents come and go, the permanent regime rumbles on. Woe to anyone who gets in its way.

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of Freedom Daily. Subscribe to the print or email version of Freedom Daily.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.