Friday May 30, 2014
American politics is largely a series of debates over unimportant details. These debates are conducted far above the fundamental level because the supposed contenders share the same premises. Where they disagree is at the level of application, and so the disagreements end up being fairly minor, especially if you think the premises are wrong.
This is an especially pronounced feature of what passes for foreign-policy debate within the accepted range of opinion. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Barack Obama’s address to the West Point graduates the other day. In that address, as in other speeches on foreign policy, Obama tried to position himself in what he likes to portray as the reasonable center. On the one side is “isolationism”: “It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.” On the other are those he calls “the interventionists from the left and right”:
U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.Note how Obama stakes out his “moderate” position between isolationism and interventionism. To do this he has to misrepresent what he stigmatizes as “isolationism” and create a straw man in order to place himself in opposition to the interventionists.