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How Hawks Discredit Themselves

Christian Whiton makes a number of fault claims in this article on the American public and foreign policy. He starts with a mostly inaccurate description of various U.S. actions over the last few years. Whiton writes:

Since the earliest days of the current Middle East unrest, when the president refused to back secularists seeking to depose the Islamist regime in Iran, to tardy statements of support for a collapsing ruler in Egypt, to unhesitating support for the Islamists thugs who followed in that country [bold mine-DL], Democratic foreign policy has appeared to most Americans as amateur hour — and anything but strong leadership.

The trouble with this summary is that these claims are misleading or simply not true. Whatever else the Green movement was, it was not “secularist” in the sense meant here, and it wasn’t trying to depose the regime. Most Green movement protesters wanted redress of grievances within the existing system. They have reasonably been described as civil rights protesters, and as such they were not interested in regime change. Whether one thinks Obama should have said more in support of their protests or not, describing them as secularists out for regime change is flat-out wrong. Many democratists and hawks faulted Obama for being too slow to call for Mubarak to resign, but all things considered Obama was quite quick in backing Mubarak’s overthrow. If there is a consistency in Obama’s handling of U.S. Egypt policy, it is that he settles for whatever the status quo happens to be at the moment, and that has produced an outcome where all sides in Egypt’s internal disputes believe the U.S. to be against them.

This support is usually anything but “unhesitating,” and the idea that Obama offered “unhesitating” support to Morsi is belied by the fact that he has acquiesced in Morsi’s overthrow and the violent suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. The most recent and strongest criticism of Obama’s Egypt policy is that the U.S. continues to provide aid to Egypt’s military following the coup in contravention of U.S. law, but oddly enough Whiton does not mention this. A persistent problem is Obama’s policies in the region is that he constantly tries to split the difference between alternatives, so that he manages to disappoint and frustrate everyone. It is possible to describe Obama’s record accurately and still find fault with it, but instead Whiton recycles some of the stalest and least persuasive complaints available.

Whiton’s discussion of the Republican side of foreign policy debate is even less impressive. Despite extensive whining about the Pauls, Whiton fails to note that the public consistently opposed military intervention in Syria for the last two years, and Paul was one of the leading members of Congress articulating the view held by most Americans long before the late summer debate over Syria this year. The public isn’t disenchanted or alienated by non-interventionist arguments. At least when it comes to fighting wars in Libya and Syria, it agrees with them. Whiton also manages to write an article about public opinion and foreign policy and never once mention the Iraq war, which is by far the most important reason why the public is so disillusioned with hawkish foreign policy of the sort that he is trying to promote. In its way, Whiton’s article is a good example of how hawks are losing ground, and why Republicans have been losing on foreign policy to Obama despite the latter’s mistakes: he ignores the hawks’ greatest blunder of the last generation, misrepresents Obama’s record, and mindlessly sneers at the only people on the right that are seriously addressing the public’s discontent with unnecessary wars.

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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