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The Return of the Liberal Hawk?

5:27 PM, Aug 27, 2008 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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That's the claim that author Derek Chollet makes in this blog-post. A friend of mine isn't convinced. He writes:

"Chollet tries to argue that an Obama administration will follow the same centrist foreign policy that President Clinton pursued in his second term, which he characterizes as resting on three pillars: 'Embracing globalization and trade; promoting democracy; and developing a concept on the use of force that turned the usual liberal debate about using military power on its head - instead of the burden of proof falling on those advocating intervention, the burden fell on those who advocated doing nothing in the face of aggression (as we saw in the Balkans). By the late 1990s, and still today, these ideas framed the mainstream of Democratic foreign policy.'

"Although this is a fair characterization of the way the Clinton administration saw the world in the late 1990s, it bears little resemblance to where the Democratic party is today - which has drifted pretty far left over the past eight years under the influence of Moveon.org.

"First, with regard to trade, Chollet acknowledges that Obama and Biden 'have criticized some of the specifics of trade agreements, but have been steadfast defenders of an open global economy.'

"Let's reflect on this for a moment. Obama has promised to renegotiate NAFTA, calling it a 'bad deal.' He has opposed every significant trade agreement that has come before Congress since he was elected to national office, including trade deals with key U.S. allies like Colombia and South Korea. To say that Obama has 'criticized some of the specifics of trade agreements' but is otherwise a 'steadfast defender of an open global economy' is like claiming that, other than his 36 years in the US Senate, Joe Biden is a fresh face in American politics. It's absurd.

"Chollet's next point point: 'Although strong critics of the Iraq war, Obama and Biden are hardly doves - they have called for doing more to end the genocide in Darfur and have advocated the use of force to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.'

"Seriously? The new litmus test for foreign policy toughness is ... a willingness to use force to kill Obama bin Laden? And 'doing more' about Darfur? "More" of what, exactly?

"And the final kicker: 'And [Obama and Biden] have made clear that they believe the U.S. must remain a steadfast defender of democracy around the world - as their response to the Georgia crisis demonstrates.'

"Perhaps Derek wasn't paying attention, but Obama's initial response to the Georgia crisis was to apportion blame equally between Russia and Georgia. It was explicitly not to draw a distinction between an authoritarian aggressor and a fellow democracy that was being victimized.

"I feel genuine sympathy for Chollet and his kin - hawkish foreign policy Democrats who have been hiding out at think tanks for the past couple years, eagerly awaiting their return to executive power, whereupon they hope to sweep left wing nuttiness from the party. Alas for them, the netroots aren't going anywhere - and by all accounts, the presidential candidate they are about to nominate is closer in foreign policy instincts and temperament to the Daily Kos bloggers than he is to the liberal internationalists at the Center for a New American Security and the Brookings Institution."

For what it's worth, I am more favorably inclined to Chollet's interpretation than my friend - the realities of a dangerous world will likely lead President Obama to embrace the use of force and intervene abroad more frequently than his supporters believe (and hope). But it is also true, as my friend points out, that Obama's initial response to Russia's invasion of Georgia, and his passionate willingness to negotiate with dictators around the globe, suggest that his instincts are closer to MoveOn than Brookings.