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The Obama Doctrine of Revenge

It must have been strange for viewers of last night’s presidential debate to be told Mitt Romney is a dangerous warmonger and then hear him open the evening by stressing diplomacy and saying: “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” But perhaps it was stranger still for the antiwar left–or what is left of it–to hear President Obama essentially respond with his classic campaign slogan, Yes we can. Last night was something of a watershed for the president in one regard. He has always been given the benefit of the doubt on his secretive drone campaigns, so-called “kill list,” and authorizing military intervention in Libya without congressional approval.

The understanding on the left was that Obama inherited an anti-terror infrastructure and two wars. But last night, Obama gave a different answer. When attacking Romney for being cautious on Libya, Obama said:

And to the governor’s credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.

Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. You know, Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job.

Why did we have to stay in Libya until we killed (or enabled the Libyan rebel forces to kill) Gaddafi, according to the president? Because he had blood on his hands. Revenge. This is part of why the president sounded so silly at times last night. He invoked the “Bush-Cheney” bogeymen in the service of making them sound insufficiently bloodthirsty.

A good follow-up question for the president might have asked if this is now the standard. You know who else has American blood on their hands? The leadership of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the government of Iran, who were behind the murder of an American girl from New Jersey in Gaza. (Iran was found responsible in an American courtroom, to boot.) What kind of NATO mission can we expect in Gaza in the near future? And of course, that was far from the only time the Iranian leadership played a role in killing Americans; they have been waging campaigns against the American military in Iraq. Did the president signal last night an impending American invasion of Iran that won’t leave until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dead?

Of course not. But it’s still interesting to watch the president who ran on restoring America’s moral authority justify policies he once claimed to abhor on the grounds that America must have a foreign policy of revenge. That argument has never been expanded beyond Osama bin Laden, who was thought to be an exception. But apparently he’s not. It took until the eve of the 2012 election, but Obama has finally repudiated the basis for his entire 2008 campaign for the presidency.


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