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Counterinsurgents in the Halls of Power

Spencer Ackerman Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Internecine ideological battles have bedeviled the foreign policy of every U.S. administration in recent memory. Human rights liberals fought unsuccessfully with Cold Warriors for control of the Carter administration. New-right hardliners initially won the war for Ronald Reagan's foreign policy soul but then lost it to George Schultz's old-guard Republican realists. The Clinton administration became an altar on which liberal interventionists exorcised the Democratic Party's Vietnam Syndrome demons. Most bitterly and most tragically, the first term of George W. Bush's presidency demonstrated what happens when neoconservatives and their allies win more ideological contests than they lose.

Barack Obama's young presidency is already remarkable in many ways. One of the least remarked upon, however, is the absence of clear internecine ideological combat. The Obama administration has no shortage of internal divisions, even when it comes to foreign policy. For instance, several young foreign-policy scholars who signed on with Obama's campaign when he was an underdog for the Democratic presidential nomination expressed bewilderment and disappointment at the subsequent nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State after Obama's election victory. Clinton's arrival at the State Department became a vehicle for Clintonites to exact revenge for the protracted primary battle by denying candidate Obama's policy advisers the jobs they expected to have once he became president. But this has primarily been a political battle, not an ideological one. The Clintonites might be more establishment-minded than their progressive Obama-centric counterparts, but they're also more technocrats than reactionaries. ...

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