Home/Daniel Larison/Fortunately, Warning About Global “Nihilistic Chaos” Isn’t Alarmist

Fortunately, Warning About Global “Nihilistic Chaos” Isn’t Alarmist

John Podhoretz wants conservatives to take Obama seriously, which he thinks means making a different set of absurd arguments:

The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment—making the case that Obama’s social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos [bold mine-DL]. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.

Of course, warning about global “nihilistic chaos” being unleashed by an “anti-exceptionalist foreign policy” is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama’s foreign policy is “anti-exceptionalist” in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here. This is a misleading and incredibly stupid claim that hawkish critics of Obama have been making for four years. It isn’t true, it certainly isn’t serious, and it undermines the credibility of these hawkish critics.

These critics have had a bad habit of just making up a fantasy foreign policy record to attack instead of criticizing the one that exists. This wasn’t just Romney’s mistake, but one that many on the right have been making since before Obama was elected the first time. When Obama has erred in his decisions, it has had nothing to do with his supposed lack of confidence in American exceptionalism, and it has usually been the result of deferring to conventional wisdom on national security issues. Hawks can’t effectively criticize these errors, because most of Obama’s errors in office have come from carrying out some version of their preferred policies. The anti-Hagel panic was the culmination of four or five years’ worth of pretending that Obama’s foreign policy views were something radically different from what they are. Suffice it to say, a movement that happily recycled the most absurd attacks against Hagel has lost the ability to distinguish between serious and spurious arguments. The fact that Podhoretz’s call for “serious arguments” against Obama relies on one of the most ridiculous anti-Obama attacks of all just confirms it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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