Obama's Liberal Imperialism

February 11, 2014 Topic: Global Governance Region: United States

Obama's Liberal Imperialism

"American diplomats don’t consider themselves diplomats in the usual sense, but rather as representatives of an empire."

Since the 1990s, the cliché in Washington has been that the bipartisan consensus over foreign policy that was the rule throughout the Cold War has been shattered in its aftermath, much to everyone’s detriment. And on a rhetorical level this is true to some extent. But in terms of differences over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, the reality is one of far more continuity than rupture. And if national-greatness conservatives such as Robert Kagan and liberal hawks like Samantha Power choose to emphasize what divides rather than what unites them, this is more of family quarrel than anything else, and not much of one at that.

In fact, Victoria Nuland’s career illustrates this perfectly. She was Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott’s chief of staff during the Clinton administration, principal deputy foreign-policy advisor to Vice President Cheney and then ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, and first State Department spokesperson and then Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs under Barack Obama. Revolving doors don’t get much more revolving than that, nor foreign-policy continuity more, well, continuous.

Are we all liberal imperialists now? Excluding the political bundlers and fundraisers that presidents reward with embassies in countries they know little or nothing about (the Obama administration’s nomination of Noah Mamet to be ambassador to Argentina being a grotesque example of this impulse), if you work on foreign policy for the US government, the answer would seem to be an emphatic yes.

David Rieff is the author of eight books, including A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2003) and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention (Simon & Schuster, 2005).