And it is not just Iraq. The analysis below reviews Obama's current foreign policy across the board and concludes that it represents a new bipartisan consensus that is "similar to what a Bush White House would do in a third term"—alas.
On the positive side, this means that we probably don't have to worry about Obama or the Democrats in Congress forcing a defeat in Iraq they way they did in Vietnam thirty-five years ago. On the other hand, this means that Obama will continue the policies of a Bush administration that is tired, enervated, and beaten down by seven years of political strife.
In short, this new consensus has been achieved by Obama moving away from the hard-core anti-war left—and by the Bush administration moving farther in the direction of appeasement and inaction, particularly against Iran.
"Obama the Irony Man," Walter Russell Mead, Los Angeles Times, July 27 Military progress in Iraq is transforming the international situation in other ways and creating more ironies. The Bush administration was unwilling to negotiate with Iran when the US seemed permanently stuck in an Iraq that would only grow worse. But as the situation there improves, the US has a stronger hand—and with its coalition of Western allies still holding together, the administration has gingerly initiated nuclear talks with Tehran.
For Obama, this is a godsend. Once savaged for his calls to negotiate with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuke-seeking, Holocaust-denying, threat-spewing government, he can now point to the Bush administration's example.
But, ironically, Obama is using his new maneuvering room to toughen his stand rather than soften it. In Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan, he wants to send in more troops, take a harder line with Islamabad and crush the elusive Taliban beneath his heel. He says the administration hasn't fought hard enough and has been too willing, out of a misguided deference for allied opinion, to let countries such as Pakistan push us around. Meanwhile, those soft and dithering Europeans need to do more. More troops. More ambitious goals. Deeper commitment. Oh—and by the way—our goal must be to build democracy in the Mideast, starting with Afghanistan….
Obama's pilgrimage abroad points to a larger truth: In the midst of a bitter political year, a loose bipartisan consensus on the Mideast may be emerging. And, irony of ironies, the consensus, seemingly embraced by Obama, seems closer to Bush's views than to those of the antiwar activists who propelled the Illinois senator to the nomination.
Here's what that consensus says:
On the war on terrorism: The terror threat is real, and we can't prevail by just fighting defense. Ultimately, we have to take this war home to the people who made it, and that means the caves of Afghanistan—and any place in Pakistan that the Pakistanis cannot secure on their own. The military budget will grow; the US presence in Central Asia will increase, at least for now. This is similar to what a Bush White House would do in a third term.
On Iraq: Bush screwed up the war in many ways. But we cannot afford to let hostile forces control this strategic country, nor can we allow Iraq to sink into genocidal strife. We will not leave Iraq like we left Vietnam. Here too Obama's current stance is, in practical terms, very close to Bush's….
On Iran: Intensive multilateral diplomacy, including direct US-Iranian talks when appropriate, is our preferred strategy to keep Tehran from building a bomb. We are willing, even eager, to live in peace with a non-nuclear Iran. The next president will have to pursue negotiations while considering all the options—a policy that represents, at most, a small evolutionary change from the current Bush position.
Barack Obama is moving toward the Bush administration, and even beyond it, on at least one domestic issue as well: government support for religious charities.
The article below, written by a Democratic political operative who has written about "closing the God gap" with the right, argues correctly that "faith-based initiatives"—an attempt to absorb religious groups into the federal welfare state—were originally a Democratic program.
This is part of a wider attempt by the left to move away from the Marxist-inspired secularism of the mid- to late-20th century and resurrect the old religious left. Barack Obama is a long-time advocate of this trend, and it is one of the few changes he promises that you really can believe in.
"Why Obama Seized the Faith-Based Mantle," Amy Sullivan, USA Today, July 28 Even for a campaign built on audacity, the boldness with which Barack Obama has picked President Bush's pocket and taken ownership of the faith-based initiative is a bit breathtaking….
The words "faith-based initiative" are now so closely associated with Bush that many Democrats long ago assumed the program was fatally flawed. So observers from both parties were surprised on July 1 when Obama declared that his concern about Bush's faith-based office was that it "never fulfilled its promise" —and then neatly pivoted to announce that an Obama administration would fix, expand and elevate the faith-based initiative.
It's fair to say Democrats were expecting a presidential nominee who would vow to overturn the faith-based initiative once he reached the White House, not one who doubled down on the program….
Obama isn't moving to the right so much as reclaiming an issue Democrats used to support…. When candidate Bush pledged in his first campaign speech in 1999 to "rally the armies of compassion," he was not blazing new ground but rather following in the steps of Bill Clinton, whose Cabinet secretaries had worked closely with religious nonprofits and Al Gore, who had endorsed the funding of faith-based organizations six months earlier….
Unlike those Democrats who see in the faith-based initiative an overflowing slush fund, Obama has also recognized that the real scandal is how small the pots of money for religious and secular non-profits have become over the past eight years….
Given the electoral success of Bush's faith-based strategy, we might have expected that this year the GOP nominee would be the one extolling cooperation between religious organizations and government. But John McCain has expressed only lukewarm enthusiasm for inheriting Bush's legacy in that area, issuing only mechanical statements of support.
That might have been good enough to give him the advantage in a typical election year against a typical Democratic opponent. But 2008 was already shaping up to be a tough year for Republicans, and Obama has just swiped the faith-based mantle from them.