Monday, January 14, 2008

Hart on Obama

Longtime Dartmouth Review contributor and former college professor Jeffrey Hart wrote an op-ed in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the inspirational qualities of Barack Obama. Perhaps more than any article I have read before, Professor Hart captures exactly what it is that fueled Obama's sudden rise to the top of national politics. Predicting an Obama presidency, he is also unrestrained in his praise:

Barack Obama is inspirational but he also possesses good political judgment. This provides a factual basis for his inspirational call for hope.

For example, when he was in the Illinois legislature in the Fall of 2002 when President Bush was trying to sell the war in Iraq, Mr. Obama reasoned as follows:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, of undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses in the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars...

William F. Buckley Jr. many years ago defined conservatism as "the politics of reality." With his realism about Iraq, Mr. Obama to that extent qualifies as a conservative.
Thanks to Dartlog.


John Bruce said...

There's some kind of a glitch on the comment section of the dartblog site for its post on this matter, or I would have posted this comment there.

Prof. Hart is clearly concerned about a Korea-like commitment of a US presence in what we may as well call the Ummah, the traditional Islamic world -- as is Obama. He posits a conflict in vision between McCain, who favors such a commitment, and Obama, who opposes it. Current polls support this.

It would be nice to imagine a world where this debate would be superfluous. However, various facets of Islamic behavior toward unbelievers, sactioned in the Koran, were in the form of the Barbary Pirates among the first foreign policy challenges of the new US. It's possible to read history, in fact to say that the campaign against slavery that began in the UK in the late 18th century and was primarily carried out via the Royal Navy was also an anti-Islamic effort. You can see in Austen's Persuasion some of the institutional pride that attached to the Royal Navy, in part due to the defeat of Napoleon, but also due to the more extended effort at eradicating the slave trade, which we tend to forget existed in large part due to the Islamic slave traders who rounded up the Africans in the first place. If you were in the Royal Navy in the 19th century, you had a sense that you were part of a larger effort for the betterment of the world, not just a national policy.

There's a view from people like Robert Spencer, which strikes me as well-supported, that Islamic expansionism, and Islamic behavior toward unbelievers, is of a piece and has been part of Islam since its founding. "Moderate Islam" is, in this view, something of a hypostatization. The use of violence, terrorism, kidnapping, and blackmail to enforce Islamic expansionism has always been a problem. Europe, exposed to this behavior as it has periodically been, is currently playing the game it's played since the start of the Cold War, relying on US resources to fight the problem and hypocritically insisting that the US is trying to be a world policeman without European approval.

It's dangerously naive to think that the problem of Islamic expansionism will go away if we ignore it or temporize with it or negotiate with it from anything but a position of strength. You can argue over which part of the Ummah should be the focus of US attention, but I think Bush and the neocons basically got it right: without a demonstrated US commitment to military force in the region, we will have continued (and increasing) terrorism and blackmail -- against Israel certainly, but I go along with those who say the real target has always been the US.

If we forget this, we'll inevitably be forced into a Great Relearning. Grail legends, it seems to me, are OK, but Steinbeck spent the latter part of his life trying to write a good novel that made use of that material, and he came up empty. I don't see it as part of useful US mythology. The Great Seal says NOVUS ORDO SAECLORUM, a better way of seeing things.

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