Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Obama's "Moral Core"

Andrew Bacevich is a guy I usually read with something approaching reverence. He is a combat veteran himself, has lost a son in Afghanistan, and is a student of the relationship between politics and warfare; not quite a von Clausewitz, but not that far short of him.

He wrote a piece in The New Republic, however, which strikes me as being really over the top in its harshness of Obama’s approach to Afghanistan. If you read me regularly, you will know that I am no fan of Obama’s policy in that misbegotten war, but it seems to me that Bacevich has become almost unhinged in his disappointment at Obama’s performance in office.

He starts by “evaluating” Bush’s war policy, and after a dramatically harsh condemnation of the wars that Bush inflicted on the world, and the motives which Bush used to justify those wars, Bacevich finishes,

Despite all of this and more, George W. Bush never wavered. He remained resolute, his conscience clear. He knew he was doing God’s work. He was—and no doubt remains today—a true believer. The 43d president was a well-intentioned fool, who inflicted grievous harm on his country. Yet when Bush stands before his Maker (or the bar of History), he will say without fear of contradiction: “I did what I thought was right.”

No mention that Bush was the kind of idiot who believes on Wednesday the same things that he believed on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday. No matter that he was the the worst kind of leader; the kind who leads his followers into disaster because he refuses to face the reality that is destroying him and his nation.

He then proceeds to condemn Obama more harshly than he did Bush,

Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different—and truer—inner compass.

Events have demolished such expectations. Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core.

I understand the disappointment. I hoped for more from Obama than I am seeing him deliver. I accept the limitations that Washington places on him; my disappointment lies in his acceptance of those limitations, in that he doesn’t even seem to try for the transformational changes that he promised. Health care, for instance, was big and expensive but was in no way transformational; we still have health care delivered by the for-profit insurance model, it’s just bigger and includes more people.

But to say that Obama’s administration “lacks a moral core” is so hyperbolic a course of thought as to lead the user not only out of the Solar System, but possibly out of the known universe.

That moral core has to some degree been subsumed by political necessity, and even at times taken a back seat to political expedience, and it is that which makes me nervous. It was the Bush Administration which had no moral core, and as such it was normal and expected that it would act in, at best, an amoral fashion.

Obama has, I believe, a strong moral core and set of principles and his administration often delivers on the promise that we voted for. But it sometimes and in some ways does not, and that is what it is so worrisome. The Bush crowd was just doing what I expected the Bush crowd to do, but I worry when I see a morally centered administration acting in the amoral ways that the Obama administration sometimes adopts.

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