As outgoing president Obama makes his final media rounds to bolster support for Hillary and to make the case for his legacy, he sat down with HBO's Real Time host Bill Maher to say that humility in foreign policy “is a useful trait" - although one wonders just when the US has been humble about interfering in foreign sovereign states' domestic affairs - even as he claimed that America is “an indispensable nation” that has “a lot to be proud of” in the world, thanks to having the most powerful military force.
While the interview focused on the president’s foreign and domestic problems, the commander-in-chief also shared his thoughts on why the US needs a military that costs over $600 billions a year: “The US having the most powerful military on Earth… helps up check the impulses of some other bad folks,” Obama said, giving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his country’s nuclear weapons program as an example. What he did not add is that as a result of being virtually unopposed around the globe, the US can interfere with impunity in every nation's affairs, and then claim moral superiority when others try to follow in its own footsteps.
Obama also highlighted that the US has a natural inclination to intervene globally, though sometimes things go “haywire.”
“Bad things happen around the world and our natural instinct is – we should do something. There are times where our intervention makes a difference, but there are a lot of times where the unintended consequences can result in more problems when we intervene. And sorting out where those issues play out is, I think, one of the biggest challenges that any president has,” he said. Alas, due to her far more direct interventionist leanings, it is likely that Hillary Clinton will have a far lower filter when deciding whether to get involved in foreign conflicts, as her State Department tenure has demonstrated.
While the president didn’t elaborate on which of his decisions to employ America’s military might had caused unintended consequences, the destruction of Libya in 2011 under Hillary Clinton's supervision may come to mind first. NATO’s bombing campaign helped rebels topple the country’s government, and, five years on, Libya is a fractured nation over which competing militant groups, terrorists, and criminals run rampant. In his earlier interviews, Obama said that he regretted not having a plan of action for after the intervention.
Yet Obama said he still believes the US and its military should continue to play a major role in the world. “As flawed as our foreign policy can be, and whatever blind spots we have, we really are the indispensable nation,” he bragged.
Contradicting his own earlier statement on humility, Obama exposed American hubris when laying out the case of US importance around the globe, which goes beyond its military presence: “There is not an international meeting I go to in which, if we were not sitting at the table, nothing gets done. For the most part, other countries don’t have either the capacity or the inclination,” he said. “When you have a bunch of authoritarian governments out there and a creeping authoritarian impulse around the world, we also are the ones who are pushing back – imperfectly, but most effectively – against locking up journalists and killing human rights activists and making sure that poor people get food and dealing with health crises,” he said.
While Obama didn’t elaborate on how successful America was in pushing back against Turkey’s impulse to arrest journalists or Saudi Arabia’s executions of human rights activists, for example, he insisted that the world needed America’s influence.
“Our values and our ideals actually matter. We do a lot of good around the world. There are some things that we do that are either ineffective or imperfect, but there is a lot to be proud of,” the president said.
Before wrapping up, Obama reiterated his call to vote for Hillary Clinton, whose tenure at state department has left US foreign policy in tatters, and prompted both China and Russia to challenge US superpower status, while her use of an unprotected server for confidential communications may have exposed numerous US state secrets to foreign espionage agencies.