The great conceit of the Freedom Agenda was that the United States possessed the capacity - primarily measured in armed might - to discard one US-devised order and replace it with another more to its own liking. In Iraq that enterprise failed irredeemably. In Washington, however, the implications of that failure, stemming primarily from a reckless misuse of military power, have yet to sink in.Obama took office as President after the neoliberal economic policies ascendant since 1980 in the US had produced the Great Recession and when the Cheney-Bush radical foreign policy had produced a visible disaster in the Iraq War and failure in the Afghanistan War.
Today the limited stability that [Condoleeza] Rice treated with such disdain is well and truly gone, as events everywhere from Libya to Yemen to Syria to Iraq make abundantly clear.
Yet in responding to the chaos that Rice and her colleagues did so much to foster, US President Barack Obama clings to the expectation that US military power, wielded directly or through proxies, can somehow or other restore a semblance of calm, however partial or imperfect.
Credit Obama with having learned one important lesson from his predecessor: Sending US troops to invade and occupy countries in the Greater Middle East is a dumb idea.
Fault him for not appreciating the larger lesson that US military intervention in this part of the world is inherently counterproductive. Air strikes, drone strikes, cyber strikes, special operations forces dispatched to advise or train or kill: None of these will suffice to check the anarchic forces that the United States itself helped let loose.
Both situations were an ideal opportunity for a Democratic President seeking to be transformational. But Obama's intent and orientation was transactional rather than transformative.
But transactional in the right direction is far preferable to continuing with a disastrous direction. As Bacevich notes in this piece, "To think of history as tragedy comes closer to the truth" than thinking of it "as a series of problems that the United States is called upon to solve."
James Mann recounts in Rise of the Vulcans (2004):
In the days immediately after September 11, the Vulcans [the Cheney-Bush foreign policy team] were determined to do things differently from in the past. Now they were no longer to listen to old excuses, old rationalizations, old ways of thinking of the sort that they had had to tolerate when they had dealt with the world in previous administrations. This blend of resolve and righteous indignation cut across the Bush administration, from hawks to moderates and from central issues of terrorism to peripheral ones. Richard Armitage [Deputy Secretary of State 2001– February 22, 2005] was a perfect example of the new mood.Mann recounts a meeting of Armitage just after the 9/11 attacks in his office with the head of Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI, Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, and Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Maleeha Lodhi:
Now, Armitage said, Pakistan faced a choice. Pakistan was either on America's side or not. You can report that back to General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, Armitage said. When Ahmad tried to explain the background to Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban, Armitage cut him short. "History starts today," he said. [my emphasis]That kind of transformative attitude proved to be disastrous in reality.