As we approach the final months of the Obama presidency, it’s clear that the “change” in foreign policy that candidate Obama promised voters has not materialized. His pledges to end the Iraq War, to pursue a nuclear-free world, to improve relations with Russia, to act as an honest broker between Israel and Palestine, and to improve relations with the Arab world have all been left unfulfilled. That his likely successor, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, is to the right of the president on matters of national security is, in a way, an all-too-fitting monument to an era of dashed expectations.
As of this writing, more than 5,000 troops are deployed in Iraq and nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan. These deployments run parallel with the dangerously misconceived interventions in Libya and Syria and a counterproductive drone war that stretches from the Maghreb and the Arabian Peninsula to the mountains and plains of Central Asia. Worryingly, the Obama administration has given these military adventures a veneer of legality by deriving justification from the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress on September 14, 2001. These US interventions are supported by nearly 2.1 million reserve and active-duty troops, 200,000 of whom are stationed overseas at a yearly cost of $600 billion. By some estimates, the US military is currently operating in more than 160 countries.
Meanwhile, in addition to waging a new and more dangerous cold war with Russia, the administration—which views the South China Sea as a core national interest—launched the so-called “Asia pivot,” which moves US policy toward China from one largely based on shared business interests to one that seeks to contain China’s rise. The president’s much-publicized trip to Southeast Asia this year was a good indication that Washington intends to surround and isolate China by employing “bandwagoning” states like Vietnam.
It was widely assumed that Obama would pick up the pieces of the Bush years and exorcise hegemonic fantasies from the body politic. Instead, over his two terms in office, the convergence of the neoconservative and Wilsonian interventionist creeds has solidified into orthodoxy. No better evidence of this exists than the fact that the neocons who served as the instigators and defenders of George W. Bush’s foreign policy have become devoted supporters of Hillary Clinton. Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen, among others, have all voiced their preference for Clinton over the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
This is less surprising than it might first seem. After all, the neoconservative and Wilsonian weltanschauungs are, like Marxism, teleological: History, for them, has specific and definable ends. For the neocons and Wilsonians (also commonly known, in recent decades, as liberal interventionists), humanity’s march toward democracy is not only in sight, but achievable. America’s foreign-policy orthodoxy can be summed up by the claim made by then–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, that America is the one “indispensable nation” because “we stand tall. We see further into the future.”