- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

How Hawks Discredit Themselves

Christian Whiton makes a number of fault claims in this article [1] 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.

Advertisement
24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "How Hawks Discredit Themselves"

#1 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On October 18, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

I read the article you linked to. It is incredibly vague about what we actually should be doing. Most of the way through, it seems to sort of hint that we should be starting a war somewhere for some reason, but it ends up disclaiming any intent to start a war and says instead that we should rely on less violent means. What those means are he never explains.

#2 Comment By SteveM On October 18, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

Re: “Democratic foreign policy has appeared to most Americans as amateur hour — and anything but strong leadership.”

United States foreign policy from both sides appears inchoate to most Americans. Inchoate because they have other worries much closer to home. And Americans are also starting to recognize that the U.S. Global Cop model is obsolete and unaffordable.

The residual, albeit uneasy popular support for war-making is sustained by the massive DoD/MIC propaganda machine whose legitimacy is never challenged. I.e., “Supporting the Troops” implies supporting the wars they get dumped into.

#3 Comment By James Canning On October 18, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

Interesting piece. Christian Whiton claims the Greens wanted a revolution in Iran after 2009 elections. This was in fact what Khamenei worried about.

#4 Comment By James Canning On October 18, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

No discussion of US foreign policy in the ME this century is complete, without a mention of illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Illegal and idiotic invasion of Iraq.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 18, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

“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.”

I think this is an astute observation. I think accurate. Not very sound advice from the Sec State.

#6 Comment By collin On October 18, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

Correct me if I am wrong but Obama’s backing away from Syria’s bombing (although mishandled) showed Obama was following exactly what the Middle America’s opinion on Syria. Stay Out!

CR

#7 Comment By Charlieford On October 18, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

Obama “settles for whatever the status quo happens to be at the moment” in Egypt, allowing Egypt to determine its own internal affairs in its own messy way.

Quite the indictment, that.

Of course, there is an alternative.

And we all know what it is.

#8 Comment By collin On October 18, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

Obama “settles for whatever the status quo happens to be at the moment” in Egypt, allowing Egypt to determine its own internal affairs in its own messy way.

Of course, there is an alternative. “And the Egyptian people will greet us as liberators!”

#9 Comment By Ken Hoop On October 18, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

Putin backed Obama off from Syria, Collin.
Just like Maliki forced him out of Iraq when he refused to give US troops immunity. O’s Peace Prize reputation has been discrdited across the Mideast if not in dumbed down America.

#10 Comment By philadlephialawyer On October 18, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

The problem with Whiton is that what he really wants is a war, any war, almost, will do. Certainly any war that the US could conceivably get into, on the side that the US would most likely be on.

He wanted a war for the “secularist” Greens. Well, um, green is the color of Islam…

[2]

…so, some “secularists!” Indeed the “secularists” issued their own, separate manifesto, and only claimed to be “supporters” of the Green movement, with the assumption being that the movement itself was not secularist:

“A declaration by the secular supporters of the Iranian Green Movement….

[3]

In any event, the last thing the Green movement wanted was US intervention. No matter, Whiton, apparently thinks he knew better, or if not, so what? A chance for intervention against the Islamicist Iranian regime was missed, and that is the only salient point, as far as he is concerned.

As for Egypt, it sounds like Whiton would not have been satisfied unless the US had gone to war to prop up the Mubarak regime. Failing that, I guess, it should have gone to war to oust the Islamicist Morsi regime.

In other words, while there are certainly grounds to criticize Obama’s ME policy, including those relating to efficacy or “professionalism,” if you will, and Mr Larison lays out those grounds nicely, according to Whiton, the real issue, despite his phrasing, has nothing to do with professionalism versus “amateur hour,” but rather with an overall lack of bellicosity. President Obama could have “handled” the Iranian and Egyptian issues perfectly, he could have been Talleyrandian masterful in his dealings with the governments and movements involved, but, if that did not lead to US war against the Islamists in those two countries, well then, Whiton would still be unhappy.

Just another in a long line of ideologues/war worshippers pretending to be hard nosed “realists.”

#11 Comment By Fulton On October 18, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

@Ken Hoop

“Putin backed Obama off from Syria, Collin.”

As an ex-pat I feel the UK House of Commons deserves a certain amount of credit there as well. The Brits not wanting to get into a war really threw a spoke in the wheels. Haven’t felt so proud of the old place in, well, ever.

#12 Comment By HyperIon On October 18, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

DL wrote: 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 begs the question: What do you think he should have done differently?

#13 Comment By SteveM On October 19, 2013 @ 10:41 am

Re: “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”

Hyperlon, the real consistency of Obama’s handling of U.S. – Any Country policy, is his schoolmarm lecturing from the Olympian environs of American Exceptionalism and his own bloated ego.

Given U.S. World Cop belligerence, Obama’s big mouth and the NSA shenanigans, what side of any country now believes that the U.S. is not against them?

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 19, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

SteveM:

“…the real consistency of Obama’s handling of U.S. – Any Country policy, is his schoolmarm lecturing from the Olympian environs of American Exceptionalism and his own bloated ego”

While I agree that Obama is not exactly the world’s most modest person, I really don’t think his ego plays much of a factor here. In reality, every US president for decades has pontificated from the same Olympian environs of American Exceptionalism. Heck, it is hardly limited to presidents…congressmen, senators, lesser elected and appointed officials, they all do it. And that trickles down to the editorial pages of the New York Times, the WSJ, the WaPo, the New York Post, and so on. And from there to the lowest and lamest “fellow” or “scholar” at the most full of it “Center” for This or That.

Basically, there is now an entire class of American politicians, journalists, commentators, pundits, and pseudo academics who feel that they have the authority to more or less constantly and universally issue ukases to the world. So and So country “must” do this. Such and Such foreign leader “must” do that. Whatchamacallit international organization “must” do the other.

Or else. With the “else” being a quickly escalating series of threats starting with diplomatic and trade sanctions and rocketing up to outright war, with only a few pausing points in between.

“Given U.S. World Cop belligerence, Obama’s big mouth and the NSA shenanigans, what side of any country now believes that the U.S. is not against them?”

Again, to me, Obama’s big mouth is just the mouth du jour. Before his mouth we had Bush’s mouth, and before that Clinton’s, and so on, plus all the other mouths I mentioned. And I would go further…given the US belligerence and spying, every side of every country not only BELIEVES that the US is against them, but has every reason to believe just that. For, if the US is not against them today, it might very well be tomorrow.

#15 Comment By James Canning On October 19, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

@Fulton – – Yes, bravo British Parliament. May have saved the US from another ill-conceived military adventure in the Middle East.

And bravo Obama, for referring the matter to US Congress after Parliament’s vote.

#16 Comment By James Canning On October 19, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

@Philadelphia – – Some of the Greens indeed saw that overt American support for their movement was damaging to their movement.

#17 Comment By SteveM On October 19, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

Re: James Canning “And bravo Obama, for referring the matter to US Congress after Parliament’s vote.”

Bravo nothing. Obama is a feckless toad. Given the resistance of the American people, he knew that he was facing a possible impeachment action if he acted unilaterally against Syria without consulting Congress.

#18 Comment By Charlieford On October 19, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

“Given the resistance of the American people, he knew that he was facing a possible impeachment action if he acted unilaterally against Syria without consulting Congress.”

Not a chance.

Of the 280+ foreign military operations the US has carried out, only 13 have received Congressional “authorization,” and a great whopping five have been formally declared. I’m no mathematician, but I think that’s about 15%.

No president has ever seriously been threatened with impeachment for any of these operations, and no party wants to establish a precedent that may limit themselves once they’re in office.

#19 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On October 19, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

@SteveM et al. If that’s how you feel, I’m not sure Pres Obama can win in any way. He has achieved (at least initially) his goal w Syria, has limited foolish interventions to a short-lived hop into Libya, got us out of Iraq and appears to be getting us out of Afghanistan. He seems to have restrained the worst impulses of the Israel-firsters, and is now starting much-overdue talks w Iran – all this while managing the nihilists in the House of Reps.

As @Hyperlon says, what exactly would one have him do differently, and what exactly would be the different outcomes you would prefer?

Obviously we might all prefer further advances (eg ending drone strikes), but to the general public (except perhaps the “muslim Kenyan Socialist” crowd), I would suggest that his foreign policy provides a strong reason to continue to support him. It shows great restraint, delivering some successes and improving America’s standing in the world. This is especially marked when compared to his catastrophic predecessor, and hawkish leanings of most of the GOP. I suspect, that w a few principled exceptions, those on the right opposing his current policies as too aggressive will change their tune once there is a repub in the WH.

#20 Comment By SteveM On October 20, 2013 @ 12:23 am

Re: Charlieford & Victory over Eurasia. It’s not like Obama was suddenly imbued with wisdom and restraint. He fully intended on unilaterally attacking Syria and was only restrained by the wise pushback from the American people.

Obama fully subscribes to the arrogant Imperial Presidency model which includes an open ended prerogative to start wars on his own initiative. And he has explicitly claimed that perogative regarding Syria. (I.e., he argued he was doing Congress a favor by consulting with it, regardless of the Constitution.)

Moreover, Obama had fully intended on extending the American fiasco in Iraq, only the United States was tossed out by the Iraqis. And Obama “appears to be getting us out of Afghanistan” only after he had gotten the U.S. further into Afghanistan with his own “Surge” escalation that has failed miserably.

Note too the other laws that Obama has conveniently subverted (Obamacare and others) using his (Imperial) Presidential prerogative. Constitutionally, Obama makes it up as he goes along.

Using the atrocious, stupid behavior of prior Presidents is no excuse for the atrocious, stupid behavior of the latest Nitwit-in-Chief to occupy the Oval Office.

Obama is a narcissistic disaster.

#21 Comment By Exile on Lampedusa On October 20, 2013 @ 10:33 am

“… to tardy statements of support for a collapsing ruler in Egypt, to unhesitating support for the Islamists thugs who followed in that country

That’s strange. Back in July I read in the newspapers that the “Islamist thugs” had been ousted by a military coup (although there was some discomfort with use of the word “coup” at the time). For the past few months the horrid, turbaned and bearded “Islamist thugs” have been arrested, tortured, or fleeing, while the military dictators have made up for lost time by racking up record-breaking civilian massacres. I also read that – excepting the odd tut-tut – Mr. Obama, strongly encouraged by Israel, continues to sustain the dictators with a money-and-weapons foreign aid package second only to the one given Israel itself. In any case, the status quo ante of the golden Mubarak years has been restored, and American bullets, tear gas and other materiel have resumed their appointed roles on Egyptian streets.

Is Mr. Whiton really unaware of that? If so, why is he not overjoyed?

Of course Mr. Netanyahu won’t be satisfied that US has sufficiently “strong leadership” until Teheran and environs have been turned to glass, but his biggest fans, among whom Mr. Whiton is doubtless anxious to be counted, have no bone to pick with President Obama’s handling of Egypt. The real “thugs” are back in the saddle, and all is right with the world.

#22 Comment By James Canning On October 20, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

@SteveM – – Obama was “feckless” to follow what the US Constitution calls for, prior to starting a war? Obama should be praised.

#23 Comment By James Canning On October 20, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

@Steve M – – I agree Obama would have cotinued the foolish American military adventure in Iraq, if he had been allowed to do so by Iraqi gov’t.

#24 Comment By Charlieford On October 20, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

SteveM, you obviously have very strongly held views about the Constitution, the president’s war powers, and associated topics. I have no reson to argue with you about those, as I am largely sympathetic.

I would only point out that the Constitution does not interpret itself. There are many opinions about it, of course, but the only one’s that matter–insofar as affecting policy–are those expressed at the national level by the peoples’ senators and representatives (the Supreme Court stays out of foreign affairs).

That is how we, together as a nation, express our consensus regarding what we believe to be permissable under the Constitution, and what we don’t.

Our history is full of undeclared wars, beginning with the Quasi and Barbary Wars under Adams and Jefferson, respectively. Many of the Constitution’s signers were in Congress at the time. If the Constitution had forbid those actions, they presumably would have known it.

However, if the sovereign people at any time become outraged about any presidential over-reach, the remedy is known, and at hand.

Given our adversarial, partisan system, the motives to pursue those remedies are plentiful, too.

Without judging the rightness or wrongness of it, the record is overwhelming, that the American people by their representatives have been and continue to be willing to grant wide latitude to presidents regarding the use of force.

You, I, and many others may wish it were otherwise–which is tantamount to wishing America wasn’t America, but something else. We can also fulminate about it, which is somewhat more engaged than merely wishing, but has similarly null effects.

We have–God bless it–a written Constitution, a wonderful thing. But we also have a rich and full body of precedents especially in foreign affairs (over-full, we might say) that guide presidents in their and those who advise them in these matters.

If we don’t like the lessons any particular president draws from this “unwritten constitution” we can send him a message, and even impeach him.

If we want to pro-actively prevent presidents from continuing or expanding any of these policies, we can amend the written Constitution if we wish.

That we have done neither is not Obama’s–or any other president’s–fault. We have granted their actions the peoples’ imprimatur, and in a democratic republic, that’s the only thing that matters.