[UPDATE: I keep forgetting that not everyone grew up in a household that had succumbed to the British invasion. I didn’t write the Krugman tribute song from scratch; I parodied this Buckingham’s classic. I love it when Krugman’s fans tell me my song “sucks,” apparently thinking I wrote the whole thing. They need to realize they are giving me way too much credit.]
Around the 35 second mark of my tribute, I point out that Paul Krugman is the top in his class:
First, the context: Krugman called George W. Bush the arguably worst president in US history. And it wasn’t just about economics; Bush’s big sin was to lie the country into war in Iraq. OK, fair enough; I have no problem hammering Bush on foreign policy like that.
But what was odd is that Krugman never said a word about Obama’s foreign policy, even as more and more progressives (especially Glenn Greenwald who was heroic in this respect) have pointed out that Obama is actually worse on civil liberties and foreign policy than Bush, in several dimensions (though not all dimensions, to be sure). When I say Krugman “never said a word,” I don’t mean that as a rhetorical device; I literally could not remember him ever saying a single thing about Obama on NSA spying, drone assassinations of people on the secret kill list, new bombing campaigns, etc.
Well in Rolling Stone Krugman has an article defending Obama’s entire presidency. “Aha!” I thought. “Now Krugman will have to speak up.” And here’s how he threaded the needle:
So far, i’ve been talking about Obama’s positive achievements, which have been much bigger than his critics understand. I do, however, need to address one area that has left some early Obama supporters bitterly disappointed: his record on national security policy. Let’s face it – many of his original enthusiasts favored him so strongly over Hillary Clinton because she supported the Iraq War and he didn’t. They hoped he would hold the people who took us to war on false pretenses accountable, that he would transform American foreign policy, and that he would drastically curb the reach of the national security state.
None of that happened. Obama’s team, as far as we can tell, never even considered going after the deceptions that took us to Baghdad, perhaps because they believed that this would play very badly at a time of financial crisis. On overall foreign policy, Obama has been essentially a normal post-Vietnam president, reluctant to commit U.S. ground troops and eager to extract them from ongoing commitments, but quite willing to bomb people considered threatening to U.S. interests. And he has defended the prerogatives of the NSA and the surveillance state in general.
Could and should he have been different? The truth is that I have no special expertise here; as an ordinary concerned citizen, I worry about the precedent of allowing what amount to war crimes to go not just unpunished but uninvestigated, even while appreciating that a modern version of the 1970s Church committee hearings on CIA abuses might well have been a political disaster, and undermined the policy achievements I’ve tried to highlight. What I would say is that even if Obama is just an ordinary president on national security issues, that’s a huge improvement over what came before and what we would have had if John McCain or Mitt Romney had won. It’s hard to get excited about a policy of not going to war gratuitously, but it’s a big deal compared with the alternative.
I refer you back to my music video, around the 35 second mark.