Wreckage and Extra-American: An Alternative View Of Obama’s Politics

By Kathryn Ward

“Diversity of thought is essential for debate to flourish,” Zach Young ‘17, President of the Buckley Fellows, attested before the Irving Brown Lecture on Monday, Sept 28 in the Yale Law School’s Levinson Auditorium. Charles Krauthammer, a Fox News analyst, writer, and psychiatrist, provided the grounds for such debate in his talk titled “Decline is a Choice: The Obama Era of Foreign Policy.” For the ensuing hour, Krauthammer attacked Obama-era liberalism as fundamentally un-American, and critiqued his foreign policy as divorced from the reality of the United State’s position as a world power with potentially catastrophic implications.

Beginning his case, Krauthammer claimed the seven years of the Obama administration were divergent from traditional United States domestic politics, historically centrist and based on limited government. Krauthammer pointed to Obama’s unconventional 2009 State of the Union Address, where the President declared, “I come not to reform at the edges, but to transform America fundamentally.” Framing the Obama administration within its three major focuses, healthcare, energy, and education, Krauthammer described Obama’s domestic policies as the fundamental antithesis of the American way and a movement towards European-style social democracy. From universal preschool to insurance mandates, Krauthammer labeled the administrative agenda as a reach beyond social-net policies implemented in the Roosevelt era to European-style entitlement states, and warned of the effect socialist policies have wrought on Europe that would be dangerous to the United States, in particular the abandonment of military strength for domestic services.

Furthermore, the current administration bypassed many important checks and balances in the implementation of policy. Obama’s policies have passed on straight party lines or executive order. Krauthammer described this process as offensive to American ideals, and pointed to the loss of democratic seats in the 2010 and 2014 elections as demonstrative of the American people’s dissent with the jarring political changes being wrought. With the loss of legislative support, the Obama agenda now lives through executive order, a state “ephemeral and reversible,” according to Krauthammer, with future reversals possible. Future legislative power, however, could have little effect however on the long-term consequences Krauthammer considered most damming to the Obama administration: its deliberate ceding of United States international security.

“The wreckage is visible for all to see,” Krauthammer declared, as the fundamental divide between Obama’s world view and reality has resulted in the United States backing away from its position as the world power balancer, creating a vacuum he warned would be filled, and by powers unfriendly to the West. Obama-era policies had, in his vision, grown from a worldview dissident from reality and defiant of the importance of the United States’ international interventions in maintaining a world order favorable to the West. Historically framing the role of hegemons through the British Empire’s domination of world politics for the 200 years before WWII, Krauthammer described the guiding light of Britain in maintaining balance of power was taking the side of weaker states against rising powers, thus ensuring no alternative hegemon threatened it. Britain played the role successfully from Napoleon to Hitler until WWII, when the world leadership devolved to the US. From Truman’s support of Greece against the USSR, to the US support of Egypt, Jordan and other small states in the Gulf War, the US held red lines against potential threats. Obama, Krauthammer icily testified, embraces a policy of retreat from this role; a policy that he sees as hopelessly naïve and dangerous to the American future. According to Krauthammer, Obama based his policies on the belief the world has evolved beyond the power politics of conquest, despite counterexamples such as the Russian annexation of Crimea, the first annexation since WWII by a European state, or China’s construction of islands in some of the most strategically-important and well-traveled waters in the South China Sea. Krauthammer denounced the idealist beliefs that the world was a safe place for the United States without aggressive intervention, and placed the blame for the shakiness of US national security squarely at the feet of the current president. Krauthammer concluded by asserting the need to for the next administration to “reestablish rationality and acceptance of reality in foreign policy…[and] accept the role history has given us: leader of the free world and protector of liberty.”

Enthusiastic applause and spirited grumbling alike greeted the speaker at the end. One audience member, Samantha Stroman ’18, commented on the extreme partisim of Krauthammer’s opinions, “Mr. Krauthammer had a very distinct stance on Obama’s foreign policy, as I [expected] from a political commentator.” Enthusiastic nodding and glares were in supply throughout the night, but Krauthammer’s main points of the importance of strength in national security and the uniquely American role as the global power balancer stood out as timely messages in the last few weeks of treaties, global economic shifts, and international conferences.

Kathryn Ward is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight college.  She can be reached at kathryn.ward@yale.edu