“Appeaser” is a label that the Neo-con crowd attempts to attach to any politician or government official unwilling to go along with their bellicose agenda. Their opposition is always likened to Neville Chamberlain and “the next Hitler” is always on the horizon, threatening to bring down civilisation from his Third World bunker. It seems that the Neo-cons’ collective memory begins in 1938 as they continuously seek to re-fight World War II, eagerly inflating petty dictators in far-off lands into great boogey-men and dangers to the West. This makes the title of British journalist John Kampfner’s article “How did Obama end up appeasing the neo-cons?” for The Independent all the more incendiary.
Kampfner begins by assailing Obama’s less than stellar record on civil liberties. The journalist writes that “Obama’s record on a number of civil liberties areas, notably anti-terrorism and whistleblowers, is as draconian as any of his recent predecessors.” And indeed this is the case. It also creates a problem for hawks and advocates of restricting liberty, as Kampfner goes on to note.
The administration’s approach poses a conundrum for conservatives and liberals alike. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are vocal in criticising abuses wherever they find them; but their language towards Obama has been more restrained. The US left (or what approximates to it) fears losing what few crumbs come from the table.
The right is also torn in its reaction to Obama’s hawkishness, but for different reasons. Should it praise him for refusing to challenge virtually any of the post-9/11 Bush doctrines, less still amending or repealing any of the legislation? Or should it denounce him for being lily-livered, even where he is not?
Notice that the British journalist writer attacks Obama from the Left, though thankfully a position that still has a great deal of respect for civil liberty. So successful in co-opting the Republican agenda have the Neo-cons been that Kampfner equates what has always been an essentially Leftist movement with “the Right.” Kampfner apparently fails to recognise that there are Leftist factions and ideologies that be can be as pro-war and anti-liberty as certain Rightist factions and ideologies. He maintains this language throughout the article in attacking what he sees as Obama’s appeasement of the Neo-cons.
The bigger threat to those who hope to see a more enlightened US administration – one that abides by international conventions and seeks to practise what it preaches – is that Obama will continue to mind his conservative flank, particularly on security and law-and-order issues, in order to secure his second term.
The old Classical Liberal, libertarian or “isolationist” Right is apparently so marginalised that it deserves no consideration or at any rate is not part of the “conservative flank” in Kampfner’s mind. And in looking for something different in Obama from the US political mainstream Kampfner ventures into fantasy land – who does he think put Obama in office? It certainly wasn’t a bunch of peacenik billionaires (if such people even exist). With few exceptions (Jimmy Carter comes to mind, especially the popular imagine cultivated of Carter in Republican media), the Left in US has been every bit as belligerent as the Right, if not more so. Teddy Roosevelt, whose legacy is invoked by both Neo-cons like Newt Gingrich and the Democratic Left alike, was both a warmonger (he aggressively promoted war against the weakened Spanish Empire) and Progressive. He was followed by other Left-leaning warmongers like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt. In more recent times Lyndon B Johnson was one of the most hawkish figures of his day while promoting a Leftist agenda at home. Bill Clinton, though less successful in both international aggression and home-spun Progressivism, did what he could to advance both agendas. Indeed, the anti-war, pro-civil liberties Left has always been a marginal part of US politics. It’s the great straw-man that the Republican Neo-con media erects and attacks on a daily basis, but is certainly not the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Advocacy of Big Government at home lends itself well to advocacy of Big Government abroad. This is what the mainstream Left and the Neo-con “Right” have in common. Obama is not watching his flank when he advocates foreign aggression and restricting civil liberties, he’s very much in step with the spirit and action of the US Left over the course of the last century. Democrat or Republican, Left or Right, mainstream US politics is about extending the power and control of Washington, DC at home and around the globe.