Jonah Goldberg

The surge in Afghanistan barely appeased hawks, while his rhetoric about withdrawal barely pleased doves. Former CIA super-lawyer John Rizzo tells PBS in an upcoming episode of "Frontline" that with the exception of ending the interrogation program, Obama "changed virtually nothing with respect to existing CIA programs and operations."

In fact, to the chagrin of many on the left, Obama has strengthened these programs by making them bipartisan and uncontroversial.

Even Obama's momentous decision not only to continue but massively expand the policy of targeted killings has an oddly cautious flavor to it. If you obliterate terrorists with a drone, you don't have the messy political question of how to arrest, jail, interrogate or prosecute them.

Obama's Libya policy may not amount to a doctrine, but it did establish two principles. In March, Obama explained that we must intervene when there's a risk of massacres or genocide, but we can never do so alone unless Americans are directly at risk.

At face value, I find this borderline repugnant. America shouldn't be the world's policeman, but neither should we make it a matter of principle to say we won't stop genocide when and where we can simply because no one will join our posse.

One has to marvel at the audacity of Obama's cautiousness. It buys bravery on the cheap by saying we must do something, and then exempts us from having to do anything if we're alone in our principles. Cross your fingers and Belgium will save us from acting by ourselves!

This principle means that we can do diplomatically or politically easy things (like Libya), but if it's hard to get support for something -- like Syria -- we're off the hook.

More broadly, it's remarkable how Obama's reactive and risk-averse foreign policy has racked up political successes, while by concentrating all of his talents on domestic affairs, he's made a colossal political mess for himself at home by concentrating his energies and talents on a bold agenda. Maybe his domestic policy shop could take some lessons.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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