by Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
Last week, the fog lifted. The appointments of Susan Rice as national security adviser and Samantha Power as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. made it clear in which direction U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is heading in the international arena. A portrait of America's new defense and diplomatic leaders shows a monolithic group that observes the world through a purely liberal lens.
The White House's decision to surround itself with an ideologically uniform team, with the exception of some slight nuances in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's outlook, represents a break with the traditional pattern in American politics. Immediately after entering the Oval Office, presidents generally try to promote a vision with a clear ideological stamp. However, after four years of ideals clashing with reality, second-term presidents tend to give up ideological purism and instead adopt realistic policy goals that recognize the limits along the path to fulfilling their original vision. In Obama's case, however, the opposite is taking place.
Obama's determined and united team is seeking the establishment of a new world order based on a clear moral foundation. This includes a greater willingness for humanitarian intervention, even if this entails a greater risk of becoming directly entangled in bloody civil wars.
Obama's new quartet of stockade guards consists of Rice, Power, Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry. Before taking on their current roles, Hagel and Kerry led the ultra-dovish camp from both sides of the Senate aisle. The female reinforcements, Rice and Power, will be a perfect complement to Hagel and Kerry.
Rice and Power are deeply sensitive to the humanitarian component of international relations and want to provide a protective umbrella to persecuted ethnic groups and minorities that are facing concrete and immediate threats to their existence. Rice developed this sensitivity regarding the African continent; two years ago, she was a leading supporter of international intervention against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya. For Power, it was the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, during which she, as a journalist, witnessed ethnic cleansing up close, that led her to become a flag bearer for the defense of human rights, particularly during civil wars.
There is no dispute about the nature of the goals of Obama's new quartet, but the question is how those goals will be achieved in situations where intervention to oust a murderous regime could lead to even worse forces taking power (or exacerbate internal ethnic divides). Another matter of concern is the contradiction between the new quartet's emphasis on human rights abroad and its notable indifference to the invasion of "Big Brother" into the private space of American citizens at home. It is surprising that, so far, the liberal wing of the American political system has refrained from challenging the intrusion of government agencies into internet databases.
Recent revelations about the surveillance of journalists and the interception of private information, including telephone records, clearly indicate that Obama, whose recent appointees were meant to reflect a deep and uncompromising commitment to human rights, did not hesitate to broaden the path set by then-President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks. Obama has expanded the government's involvement in civilian and domestic affairs.
Only time will tell if the Obama administration can settle the fundamental contradiction between its declared liberalism and its lack of respect for basic rights at home, while at the same time promoting humanitarian goals overseas.
Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi
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