Alex Massie gets at the heart of what has been bothering me about so much of this Republican yapping about Obama’s so-called “apology tour” and the idea that Obama has been demeaning and denigrating the United States during his first trip abroad as President. It’s not just that these claims are false, which they clearly are, but that they have absolutely no connection to reality: there were no apologies, and there was no denigration. One might think that this would satisfy his Republican critics, but that is not the case.
Reading some of the complaints, such as Krauthammer‘s, one might think the critics were five years old. They seem to think that the hard work of rebuilding America’s reputation in the world, a reputation that the very same critics and their confreres spent years dousing in gasoline and setting on fire, yields instant gratification, as if repairing frayed relations and coordinating international policies could have overnight results. The same people who grew weepy at the thought of History vindicating Bush decades or centuries hence are prepared to declare his successor a failure after less than three months. The people who contributed directly to pushing the good name of our country into the muck are now crying that Obama has not yet, in his first set of meetings, successfully cleaned up their mess. They and their arguments deserve little more than scorn.
Specifically, the idea that Americans have been fighting wars over the last two decades for innocent Muslims* (!) would almost be precious–an example of the sort of naivete they accuse the President of displaying–if it were not part of an ostensibly serious critique. Massie sums up in response to Wehner’s claims on this point:
This is nonsense and anyone with any knowledge of these things must know that this is self-serving, delusional bullshit.
The mainstream right’s reaction to Obama’s European trip has reminded me of the claim some on the Anglophone right were making during the election that the election supposedly pitted an advocate of “global universalism” against a defender of American exceptionalism. As I said then, it was never clear which one was supposed to play which role, because both of the candidates were American exceptionalists and universalists in their respective ways, but this basic truth that Obama is an American exceptionalist and one steeped in Americanism is simply inadmissible for some of these people. I don’t know why I have to keep telling so many of you Republican globalists this, but on most of the major policy questions Obama is on your side.
Even though this is incontrovertible and well-established, it has to be denied vigorously in order for the critics to lay sole claim to Americanism and to define it in its most aggressive, nationalistic form. There is a partisan purpose in doing this, I suppose, but more important than mere political advantage is the need to claim some sort of monopoly on national pride. This is a bizarre mutant strain of nationalism on display. You would think American nationalists would tend to see the broad, bipartisan embrace of exceptionalism, hegemonism and national security ideology as vindication of their own views, but instead they look for reasons to complain that left-liberal adherents of these things are lacking in zeal and are somehow intent on insulting the U.S.
As ridiculous as it is, all of this seems misguided and counterproductive for the critics on their own terms. They have gone to the well of national security demagoguery too often in the last decade, and now it is virtually dry. Most people aren’t buying what these critics are selling, and the critics are destroying whatever credibility they might have still had. What is strangely amusing about all this is that some of these critics, such as Wehner, were once some of the most embarrassingly pro-Obama people on the right to be found back in 2007 and early 2008. Once it became clear that he would be the Democratic nominee, the old instincts re-emerged. As I concluded in a piece from March 2008:
Disenchantment with Obama started to set in when he, or at least those closely associated with him, seemed to fail some of the basic tests of American nationalism, which gave his opposition to the Iraq war a different, more ominous appearance. When he began to appear “ungrateful” in their eyes, or when his views struck them as unduly “pessimistic,” these mainstream Republicans began to find him and his associates distasteful. You used to hear the argument from these Republicans that Obama might represent doom for the right, but would be good from the country—you don’t hear that anymore. Instead, partly because of the more hostile treatment from the mainstream right, the dissident right has been giving him far more of a hearing on an essentially single-issue basis than it has ever done for any Republican on any one policy question. Having rejected the siren song of “the lesser of two evils” in successive elections, some now embrace the same logic that empowers the stifling two-party system and the establishment consensus that the system perpetuates. It is difficult not to sympathize a little with a candidate who is being excoriated mostly because of the few views that are relatively sane and closer to my own, but that simply reminds me that these views are by and large the exception for this particular candidate, who is in virtually every other respect as wedded to the establishment consensus as any of the Republicans who are now savaging him.
* Even though this claim about fighting on behalf of innocent Muslims is dubious (not least because several of our wars, especially the war in Iraq, have killed or led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of these people), it reflects something basic to Americanism. This is the idea that anytime the U.S. fights a war, no matter what the actual reasons for it are, whichever group or nation comes out ahead at the end of the fighting must show eternal gratitude to us. It is apparently an additional requirement that anytime the U.S. fights a war that may benefit some Muslims, all Muslims must similarly be grateful, even if the U.S. wages other wars and backs other policies and governments that harm and kill many other Muslims. In other words, Americanists want Muslims to think like Pan-Islamists when it serves Washington’s purposes (i.e., when it is supposed to make Muslims favorably disposed to us), but Muslims must never think like Pan-Islamists when it doesn’t.