The neocons of the Bush/Cheney administration tried desperately to recreate that good vs evil frame with their Global War on Terror. Playing on the anger/fear after 9/11, they had us going for a while on that one. I suspect that one of President Obama's greatest legacies will be that the very policies many on the left so vociferously criticize him for will prove to be effective enough to actually end not only that "war," but also the frame the neocons wanted to reignite.
The truth as we're beginning to see now is that things just aren't that simple and binary. No matter how much folks like Sen. McCain want us to take sides in places like Syria - it was he himself who showed us all just how complex that situation is by having his picture taken with rebels who turned out to be terrorists.
We're seeing that same complexity play out in Egypt these days. The government that was just toppled was a democratically elected Islamist regime. And the military was on the side of the anti-Islamist protesters. If you're a neocon trying to fit all that into a binary good vs evil frame, your head should be exploding right about now.
But get used to it folks. This is the way the real world works. If we had clearer eyes in the past - its what we always would have seen.
The frame of good vs evil was a tool used by previous US administrations to define which "side" we were on to justify our intervention. Whether it was supposed terrorists in Iraq or communists in Viet Nam, we were manipulated into supporting military engagement in things that were much more complex than we had been led to believe.
As I watch President Obama deal with the foreign policy challenges he faces, what I see is - perhaps for the first time - a President who is doing his best to deal with those complexities and avoid the binary trap of good vs evil. It means extricating our responses from an imperialistic view of U.S. intervention and instead focusing on the core principles of the right of the people of other countries to freely and democratically determine their own fate. For example, here is the first paragraph of the President's statement about recent events in Egypt.
As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law. Since the current unrest in Egypt began, we have called on all parties to work together to address the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people, in accordance with the democratic process, and without recourse to violence or the use of force.The question for Americans is whether or not we're ready to deal with these complexities and to see our leader avoid taking sides. Can we step back from the assumption that the U.S. is always in charge (imperialism) and let other countries decide their own fate? And can we balance that with a need to sometimes work with the rest of the world when there is an opportunity to avoid mass murder (ie, Libya)?
We know the cries from the neocons will be that President Obama is "weak" and that he is not showing leadership. And the cries from the libertarians will be that he is simply repeating Cold War interventionism when he makes the hard calls to get involved.
What I see is a President laying the groundwork of a new role for the United States in the world. He articulated that several years ago in his speech at Cairo University.
...human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.This folks, is one humongous BFD! It will perhaps take decades for the U.S. to extricate itself from the damage our imperialistic approach to the world has wrought (we see that happening right now in the South/Central American countries Edward Snowden is being embraced by). But I believe that if we have President Obama's back on this - that's just where he's heading. Its a classic case of the power of partnership as opposed to dominance being applied to our foreign policy.