24 and Obama’s Realpolitik
Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on May 2, 2010
Though it was conceived in a pre-9/11 world, 24 quickly adapted itself to the jarring reality of the terrorist threat facing the United States. Parodied by some as a right-wing show, 24 always embraced the complexities–the intractable moral give-and-take, the sacrifices and the political and foreign policy challenges–of battling amorphous terrorist enemies. So far, The Dark Knight is the only movie to take on this confounding challenge facing America–the challenge of defeating an enemy that comes closer to pure evil than anything we’ve ever seen, an enemy not bound by traditional limits of rationality and self-preservation. 24 has done the same thing on television for eight years.
This year, however, we’ve seen the most direct commentary on current events yet. President Allison Taylor, an idealistic internationalist president who set principle above even the preservation of her family, has seen her belief in the international system trump her moral code, leading to a chilling turn of events that has Jack seeking to thwart his once stalwart ally in the White House. It makes for great drama, but it also offers compelling commentary on the foreign policy of President Barack Obama.
As the Obama administration came to power, the internationalist wing of the Democratic Party, ostracized by the Bush Administration’s skepticism of bodies such as the U.N., was ushered back into power. It’s a well-intentioned wing that believes ardently in the power of international cooperation to solve serious problems such as nuclear proliferation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, it’s also ridden with contradictions and disturbing moral compromises. Simply put, to ensure a global coalition, concerns about issues such as human rights often have to take a back seat to the seemingly more important task of securing global agreements.
This reveals a political irony that may be shocking to some casual observers of politics. While President Bush was caricatured as a ruthless war-monger, Obama came into power promising a friendlier America, one that would work with partners — and enemies — to solve the problems of the world. Assumed in this promise is the belief that we’d continue to stand behind our defense of human freedom around the world. But, for many risking their lives in this cause, America’s new embrace of internationalism has proved troubling to say the least. Bush was the ultimate idealist, seeking to create a democratic utopia in the Middle East and doing more to combat AIDS in Africa than any president in our history. Obama, on the other hand, subscribes to the internationalist view that global agreement is the ultimate goal — one that should be achieved at nearly any cost.
Sure, this is an overly simplistic take to some degree. Bush knew where to muddle values — for instance, Guantanamo — for the “greater good.” But, it’s indisputable that his agenda was grounded in core values that could not be compromised. On the contrary, Obama’s is driven by values determined by a global consensus. As a result, international cooperation is bought with the sacrifice of American priorities and values. To get China to even consider sanctions against Iran, you have to give the Dalai Lama the cold shoulder or ignore Darfur. To get Russian cooperation, you have to keep Eastern European allies at a distance. We’re seeing the same thing play out on 24. Desperate for a peace treaty with the fictional stand-in for Iran, President Taylor is willing to cover up Russian involvement in the murder of the “Iranian” president to keep them “at the table.”
24 has always taken us beyond the simplistic portrayal of terrorism and our efforts to combat it from both the right and the left. This latest twist, where the president obsessively pursues peace on paper at the expense of her personal ideals and the nation’s values, may be its most powerful and relevant. And, for those who profess concern about human rights but embrace Obama’s cold, calculating foreign policy, it should serve as a wake-up call.