How a Non-Event Creates a Conspiracy Theory
It’s a given that Marty Peretz is wrong whenever he writes about foreign policy, but his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal is useful as an extreme example of the delusion about what the “flexibility” comments mean:
But really the message, the important one, concerns us, here in America. It is that the American people can’t be trusted if the president is honest with them about what he proposes. More bluntly, that the American people are not trusted by their own president. Otherwise the president would tell us the truth about his intentions. And here he is, admitting his distrust of his own people to a leader of a nasty foreign government that seeks to thwart our purposes in the Middle East and elsewhere. President Obama is in cahoots with the Russian regime against America’s very body politic.
Probably the only significant political lesson to be drawn from the last week of manufactured outrage over these comments is that a great many hawks distrust Obama on foreign policy, but that’s not really news, either. What this week’s hysteria has shown is just how deep that distrust goes. How else could such a non-event trigger so many days of panic? The only way one can conclude that Obama is “in cahoots with the Russian regime against America’s very body politic” is if one is already very hostile to Obama’s foreign policy and that hostility is rooted in a number of falsehoods about how Obama has conducted foreign policy over the last three years. Otherwise, this statement comes across as a conspiracy theory so feverish and unfounded that it would embarrass the Birthers because of its lack of evidence and rationality.
After all, where in these unimportant comments is there any mention of distrusting the American public? Over the last few days, Obama has been fairly blunt in saying that he intends to seek additional reductions of nuclear weapons. Negotiating some sort of cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defense has been on the public agenda of the alliance for almost a year and a half. If Obama’s interest in reaching an agreement on NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense was supposed to be a secret, he has done a very bad job over the last year of keeping it under wraps. The very strongly Atlanticist James Joyner commented favorably on the results of the NATO Lisbon summit:
The NATO-Russia issue was arguably the most stunning success of the Summit, with the sidebar meetings with President Medvedev going far better than anyone should reasonably have hoped. Not only did Russia agree to participate fully in a European missile defense shield — something that would have seemed absurd as recently as a year ago — but Medvedev insisted on “a full-fledged strategic partnership between Russia and NATO.” [bold mine-DL] Nor did this happy progress come at the price of future NATO enlargement, with the Strategic Concept continuing to maintain that membership remained open to European countries who met the Alliance’s standards and a reaffirmation that Georgia would one day be admitted. Balancing these issues in such a way that both Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili walked away satisfied is a major achievement, indeed.
Since that summit, NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense has run into difficulties, and working out those difficulties, if they can be worked out, is not something that is going to happen in the next few weeks before Obama attends the Chicago NATO summit or meets with Putin at Camp David. Hawkish critics don’t understand this, or they’re pretending not to understand it, which is one more reason why the rest of us shouldn’t trust anything they have to say about this.