Why Do Neocons Always See Reasonable Action As A Sign Of Weakness?

by Daniel Russ on April 9, 2010

Tunku Varadarajan

Tunku Varadarajan write in today’s daily Beast about the problems with the Obama foreign policy.

As has been pointed out by a prominent parser of all things nuclear, the new policy actually changes very little: We weren’t going to nuke Brazil before the review and we’re still asserting the right to nuke North Korea if we need to. And even my nuclear-layman’s eye detects the thrust of platitude in the president’s assertion that, henceforward, the U.S. would “only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.” Does the president mean to tell us that his predecessors were free to consider the use of nukes in humdrum circumstances to defend trivial interests?

I jest here, of course, but I despair, too. I despair of this latest episode of gestural theater designed to make the U.S. look exquisitely reasonable (should we call it “Jimmy-Cartesian”?), but which in truth results in the U.S. looking flaccid, or worse, complacent. After all, who gains from a presidential posture that has, in effect, stigmatized our most potent deterrent?

In terms of foreign policy—or, better put, foreign clout—the U.S. is going through a startling period of auto-emasculation. Barack Obama has discarded his predecessor’s big stick—the wielding of which should have confirmed the flaws not of big sticks but of his predecessor—and replaced it with a mission of almost messianic outreach to our foes and most adamant competitors (while, at the same time, snubbing allies like Britain, Israel and India; Robert Kagan has a doughty essay on this in The Washington Post.)

….ahhh of course. Who is this poseur acting like a reasonable man? Asks Tunku Varadarajan, the Daily Beasts’ resident neocon. Just what the heck happened to the American presidency? This isn’t how we do it here. No, we write nasty sound bytes and veiled threats about “regime change” and “new world order”

We put three carrier groups on your shores and demand that you produce the weapons that three international expert independent inspection teams couldn’t find a single shred of evidence for, and then attack you in a 30 hour continuous bombing mission that we call “Shock and Awe”. Then, after we have crushed your army and started a low-grade civil war, we put a sign that says Mission Accomplished

The thing that always gets me about the Neocons is that nothing bothers them more than reasonableness. They are so in love with Ronald Reagan and John Wayne that they long for the TV/Hollywood leadership, where threats and intimidation actually work in your favor as opposed to making your opponent more vehement. In Neoconland negotiation or forgiveness is for weaklings. No amount of suffering or the horrors of war will ever satisfy these theatrical armchair secretaries of state. Not a one of them has ever been to war or been closer than a typical pentagon sponsored Blackhawk tour while you wear a helmet and a flak vest. Without the cojones to fight a war, they blather on their blogs about posturing and toughness and war, bloody bloody war, having rarely had to see the business end of it; entrails in a pile, bloody screaming wounded soldiers, devastated families. No these chicken hawks fan the flames of war as if they never will have to fight it. Tunku is no different than Michael O Hanlon and Jonah Goldberg, blowhards who have been wrong pretty much about every single thing they have ever written about regarding foreign policy, yet somehow the faux litterati of the faux universities (Think Tanks) continue to find an audience and an outlet for their faux theses, each one blindingly simplistic and bought and paid for without the slightest flavoring of independent thought.

Michael Levi: Obama’s Nuke Plan Doesn’t Go Far EnoughObserving Obama’s foreign policy, one comes away with the impression that he is profoundly embarrassed by American exceptionalism: We are a country like any other, and let no one tell us otherwise. He also views America’s international decline as irreversible: His instinctive response is to accommodate the U.S. to the forces that have led to this decline, since to resist them would not merely be futile, but an affront to the multi-polar sensibilities of all those who, in foreign chanceries and international institutions, watch America closely for any trace of unilateralist recidivism. (Of course, it is OK to be unilateralist in the formal renunciation of strategic options, as happens with any nuclear self-denial; otherwise, multinational solidarity is always to be preferred, even when it leads to the backing of anti-American forces, as has happened in Honduras.)

Stephen L. Carter: Obama, Don’t Stop Building Nukes In the Obama narrative, America has been a reckless source of trouble for the world because of its arrogant interventionism. Obama’s solution, in the words of Charles Hill, a professor at Yale, is the following: “Close out the wars, disengage, and distance ourselves in order to carry out the real objective: the achievement of a European-style welfare state. Just as Reagan downsized government by starving it through budget cuts, Obama will downsize the military-industrial complex by directing so much money into health care, environ-o-care, etc., that we, like the Europeans, will have no funds available to maintain world power. This will gain the confidence of those regimes adversarial to us as they recognize we will no longer be a threat to them and that we will acquiesce in their maintenance of power over their people.” All will be well with the world.

Obama’s foreign policy has two pillars: conciliation as a tool for peace (defined as lending a close ear to every recalcitrant nation, while abjuring any American right to be censorious); and an avowed preference for pragmatism over any values-based evangelism (in effect, the elevation of pragmatism to the status of directive principle). Commentators have observed that there is an element of Bush repudiation in Obama’s foreign policy. I would go further: Bush repudiation is not “an” element. It is “the” element.

To be fair, this is exactly the way George W. Bush viewed, and repudiated, Bill Clinton—and did so with a mulish refusal to entertain policies that were at odds with the neocon vision of Pax Americana. Recall that Bush, at first, spoke contemptuously of humanitarian intervention and said that he’d only pursue the most “vital” national interests abroad (ironic, since that is the gist of Obama’s repudiation of Bush). But Bush went on to overturn Clinton on every issue: He termed China a “strategic competitor” while Clinton viewed it through the lens of commercial diplomacy; he jettisoned all the emphasis on “globalization,” with its opportunities and threats (disease, global warming, etc.), and exchanged geo-economics for geopolitics; he turned his back on the U.N., while Clinton was usually working with it; he ditched, entirely, the Middle East “peace process,” which Clinton was addicted to; and finally, the most tectonic shift of all: He intervened militarily in countries where he saw threats to the U.S., whereas Clinton had merely Cruise-missiled empty tents and aspirin factories.

As Bush did to Clinton, so Obama has done to Bush. But the visceral displacement is not working, mostly because the other side—to wit, the rest of the world—is determined to have a say in international relations too, especially when faced with a complaisant Washington. Obama can profess his multilateralism till he’s azure in the face, but—as Kagan and others have pointed out—other countries have their own particular interests, and will sell nuclear reactors to Iran and arms to Venezuela, no matter how compelling Obama’s family history is.

There is also an unseemly side to the pragmatism that is Obama’s international leitmotif. Paradoxically for a man who incarnates the progress of civil liberties in his own country, the president has literally banished human rights (that quintessentially liberal and Democratic concern) from U.S. foreign policy—just because Bush took up the cause. Of rights in China, Egypt, and elsewhere, the Obama administration has spoken only with an excessive, and dispiriting, circumspection.

…Again, Obama commits the big sin for neocons…he isn’t rattling a saber or lecturing an ally about how to tear human beings. Of course Obama remembers that the world considers us a big source of war and torture, and so doesn’t presume to dictate to someone else policy changes that we also have to make. This however never enters the mind of the Neocon who is absorbed in ritual and ceremony and how things should be, or used to be. The Neocon never deals with the facts on the ground, that we have a bad image in the world mainly because of the actions of Bush and the rest of the PNAC crowd. You see, once everyone hates you, then it’s hard to get the kind of cooperation you are seeking. But like a guy who farts in the elevator, only the Neocons have no radar whatsoever about how they and the US has offended people with blatantly imperialist approach to governance.

So one wonders—as Putin embraces Chavez and Karzai plays host to Ahmadinejad; as Russia asserts the right to repudiate any nuclear-arms reduction treaty and China gives us the bird on the yuan; as the alliance with India languishes and the one with Britain experiences unprecedented atrophy; as Israel expresses acrid disagreement with us and Japan seeks to rip pages out of its postwar rulebook—what all the pragmatism has really, truly accomplished…

…other than give our delighted adversaries a free pass and our friends a very rude wakeup call.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)

Yes, the Neocons think that Obama has made us look weak. Because appearances to them trump everything,  especially the messy realities of soft power – that a more demur stance to the use of power gives us more power. It gives us the greatest power of all, the power to get our allies to listen to us, and to work with us. Like all Neocons,  Tunku is ½ Roosevelt. Carry a big stick, minus the girly liberal walk softly part. I would say to Mr. V the same thing I would say to any of these fighting keyboarders: want to go to war? I reccommend Goarmy.com.

Daniel Larison of American Conservative Magazine strikes a balanced respond to his own side’s vituperous vituperating.

As usual, Obama governs in a rather dull, “centrist” fashion where continuity with the Bush years is far more noticeable than any change and he is accused of the worst perfidies of left-wing extremism. Obama’s “centrism” often isn’t a good thing, and with respect to extraordinary executive power grabs, state secrets, indefinite detention, illegal surveillance and the unconstitutional treatment of U.S. citizens (including assassination orders!) Obama has matched or even outdone Bush in illegal excesses, but it doesn’t really make much sense to oppose an administration for doing things one doesn’t actually oppose and attacking it for things that it will never do […]

One wonders where Republican hawks can possibly go from here. They have almost three more years of an Obama Presidency to endure, and already they have gone mad with alarmism, hysterics and overreaction to fairly ho-hum policy decisions. Obama needs a credible, sane opposition to keep him in check and challenge him when he is actually wrong. Right now, he doesn’t have that, and all of us will suffer for it. His own party will not hold him accountable, because a President’s party never does, but in any contest between an erring Obama and a mad GOP the latter will keep losing.

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