This was an amusingly snide comment piece in the Washington Post from Robert Kagan, poking fun at the media’s habit of embracing everything the Obama administration is doing as “new.” Sure, crabby as he is, Kagan does have a point on some of this stuff (especially Washington’s willingness to put up with whatever shortcomings China has in the democracy department – a lesson Cuba seems to be taking to heart), but in other areas Kagan’s argument about Hillary’s secret continuity are much less convincing. I wonder how these moves jibe for Kagan’s league of democracies idea?
When it comes to actual policies, however, selling the pretense of radical change has required some sleight of hand — and a helpful press corps. Thus the New York Times reports a dramatic “shift” in China policy to “rigorous and persistent engagement,” as if the previous two administrations had been doing something else for the past decade and a half. Another Times headline trumpeted a new “softer tone on North Korea,” based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that the United States would have a “great openness to working with” Pyongyang — as soon as it agrees to “verifiable and complete dismantling and denuclearization.” Startling.
The media have also reported a dramatic shift in the Obamaadministration’s approach to conducting the Activity Formerly Known asthe War on Terror. “Bush’s ‘War’ on Terror Comes to Sudden End,” ThePost announced on Jan. 23, and subsequent stories have proclaimed atransformation from “hard power” to “soft power,” from military actionto diplomacy — even as the Obama administration sends 17,000 troops toAfghanistan, significantly expands Predator drone attacks in Pakistanand agrees to a timetable for drawing down troops in Iraq scarcelydistinguishable from what a third Bush administration (with the samedefense secretary) might have ordered.
So, too, the administration’s insistence on linking proposed missiledefense installations in Europe to the “threat” posed by Iran, or itsoffer to negotiate Russia’s acquiescence to this plan and even to sharemissile defense technology. All this is widely celebrated as new. ButDefense Secretary Robert Gates began these negotiations with Moscowmore than a year ago.