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Jon Cogburn

I think this is basically right and insightful except for the bit about foreign policy. I worry that there are just too many counterfactuals we don't know and that blaming Obama too much here plays into a mythic overestimation of the amount of power really possessed by United States Presidents.

Could Obama really stop weapon sales to Saudi Arabia right now as they pulverize the people of Yemen? To Israel? I doubt it very much. Most of Congress is paid by the military contractors to support this kind of thing, and anyone with decision making powers in the military and federal government end up making bank working for contractors and lobbyists after they "retire," as long as they've played along. And Obama already expended more political capital in the Iran negotiations than he really had.

American foreign policy is wholly irrational. We support the Sunni powers and Israel through massive arms sales, giveaways, and diplomatic coverage while at the same time achieving victories for Shiite powers (by crippling Afghanistan and the Sunnis in Iraq and now fighting ISIS). This strategic incoherence predated Obama and will clearly postdate him (note how Trump has appointed both fanatically pro-Russian and fanatically anti-Iranian people to positions of great power). I think that future historians will just see the United States as an agent of violent chaos during this period of history. Some of them will follow the principle of charity and assume that that was the point.

In any case, part of what is distasteful about Hillary to many of us is that she was such a cheerleader for an activist foreign policy, but if I'm reading you correctly you are suggesting that things would be better if Obama had not been a check on this kind of thinking.

I'm not saying that the opposite is true. [Sometimes it clearly is. We (and others) are reaping the whirlwind arising out of our having meddled in the Ukraine. I don't know if the Libya thing is as much of a fiasco as conservatives allege.] What I'm saying is that I don't think we really know. We have the dimmest of ideas of what is really possible for a U.S. President to achieve, given all of the institutional pressures, and we have the dimmest of ideas of what actions would in fact produce much worse outcomes.

But I do think you are spot on about Obama's misplaced faith in teleology and I think it's very plausible that this might be responsible for the undoing of all of the good he has helped achieve. Of course if he didn't have that misplaced faith he probably wouldn't have been able to help achieve that good in the first place. . .

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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