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Hawks Are Just Embarrassing Themselves

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…~Tunku Varadarajan

Shorter Varadarajan: The substance of Obama’s positions is unchanged from the previous administration, but it is imperative that I make him appear as a weak buffoon, so I will simply invent a complaint about entirely superficial appearances that mean nothing.

Varadarajan is just one among many conservatives thrown into apoplexy by basically nothing. He is different from most in that he acknowledges up front that he has no substantive disagreement with what Obama has done with respect to the Nuclear Posture Review, but proceeds to complain about “auto-emasculation” nonetheless. Obviously, some of this is just partisan and ideological opportunism. Republicans and mainstream conservatives destroyed their credibility on foreign policy and national security, they have done nothing to improve on the bad ideas and policies that helped destroy that credibility, and so they have to try to position themselves as opponents of a new Carter. They do this even though they have few grounds for any serious objections to what the administration has done, because it is crucial for them to re-establish the link in the minds of the public between Democratic Presidents and perceived or real weakness abroad. This will allow them to posture as the nationalist defenders of the country, which might be enough to make people forget their remarkable failures in the past.

These critics are laboring under the false impression that by constantly emphasizing their hawkishness and imputing to Obama a dovishness he does not possess that they will turn the public against him. Because Obama continues to be consistently “centrist” and relatively hawkish in his foreign policy, which is mostly a bad thing, he does not provide any real openings for legitimate hawkish criticism. So they are reduced to inventing the “apology tour,” simply lying about the “appeasement of Russia,” hallucinating a “soft” approach towards Iran, constructing a ludicrous narrative of hostility to allies and accommodation with enemies, and topping it off with the silly claim that Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism. Given enough time, I’m sure they will declare that Obama was somehow responsible for Bakiyev’s downfall in Kyrgyzstan and will accuse him of “undermining a critical ally in the war on Afghanistan.” Like all of these other things, this will be rubbish, but it is rubbish they can use.

Criticism of the administration’s clumsy, needless provocation of Britain over the Falklands would carry far more weight if the same people had not already concluded that Obama had been “snubbing” the British by returning Churchill’s bust. Perfectly reasonable criticism of the mishandling of the Honduras crisis is lost in all the caterwauling about the “betrayal” of Poland and Czech Republic on the missile defense decision. Real administration mistakes are drowned out and pushed to the background by the endless yelping about policy decisions that are correct, or boringly conventional or in line with what the critics themselves claim to want. If these people had had any credibility left after the Bush years, they would have already squandered it all in the last 14 months of frivolous, hyperbolic, contradictory complaints about every single thing Obama has done.

These days such critics don’t even attempt to explain how Obama has “snubbed” India, whose prime minister was the guest of honor at the first Obama state dinner. Instead, they just rattle off a list of allied states and simply declare that they are offended. Apparently, India does feel somewhat neglected by the administration. Granting that India feels neglected, does the Indian government have good reason to complain? We should remember that this is also the administration that confirmed the nuclear deal negotiated under the previous one, and it effectively gave up on any idea of mediating in Kashmir after New Delhi protested. Aside from some early, unnecessary public quarreling over climate change regulation and the odd blunder by Holbrooke, there isn’t much that should displease India. As for Ganguly’s claim that Obama is “backpedaling” on the nuclear deal, that isn’t what Bhadrakumar was saying just last week:

The relationship between the United States and India, which lately showed signs of stress, was revamped on Monday with the announcement that the two countries have completed the “arrangements and procedures” for US-origin spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed in India.

Bhadrakumar went on to say that there might be an agreement ready for signing as early as this week when PM Singh is in Washington for the non-proliferation summit. He added, “Without doubt, Obama is putting his personal stamp on the US-India strategic partnership.”

No contribution to the “Obama is dragging America down” genre would be complete without the completely loopy claim that Obama intends to slash military spending. Varadarajan even drags out Charles Hill, who happens to be a former Giuliani campaign advisor, and quotes him at length as he embarrasses himself by describing Obama’s “solution”:

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 [bold mine-DL] 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.

This is so far removed from reality that I don’t really know what to say. Once upon a time, even Robert Kagan affirmed that Obama embraced the “arrogant interventionism” Varadarajan claims that Obama opposes. Apparently, that is just one more thing that movement conservatism requires be sent down the memory hole.

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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