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Why Hard-liners Rely on Stale Cliches

Robert Golan-Vilella points out that the statement John McCain and Lindsey Graham released on Cuba was nothing more than generic hard-liner rhetoric:

But look again at McCain and Graham’s words. Notice how none of them actually have anything to do with Cuba. There is not a single fact or analytical conclusion about Cuba that explains their opposition to having diplomatic relations with that country. Rather, the two senators provide a familiar litany of clichés and buzzwords: “Retreat,” “decline,” “appeasement,” “diminishing America’s influence.” It reads more like a game of Mad Libs for hard-liners than a policy statement.

That’s true, and it reflects just how empty the hawkish argument against normalization is. Opponents of the decision are hard-pressed to identify any actual costs for the U.S. (because there aren’t any), and they also can’t defend the ridiculous status quo. So they are forced to fall back on cliches about weakness and appeasement. Those cliches have the advantage of conveying the hard-liners’ disgust with the policy without requiring them to explain anything. They provide a substitute for argument for those that have no serious argument to make. Likewise, hard-liners make claims about “emboldening” enemies and “demoralizing” allies all the time when there is no evidence that either of these is happening. It doesn’t matter to them that neither is happening. All that matters for hard-liners is to frame any policy they don’t like in these terms so that it gives their knee-jerk rejectionism the appearance of a more careful weighing of costs and benefits. Instead of having to think through whether a diplomatic effort is worth trying, it is much easier to reject it out of hand and call it appeasement, and so this is what they do.

Golan-Vilella is correct when he says that it would be impossible for normalization with Cuba to demoralize America’s allies, since virtually every other government in the world favors an end to the embargo and a restoration of ties between our countries. How could Washington be demoralizing allies by doing what they think the U.S. should do? However, for McCain and Graham, that is almost beside the point. It may be true that our close Canadian neighbor and ally was instrumental in facilitating the talks between the U.S. and Cuba, but they don’t care. It may also be true that all other governments in our hemisphere welcome the change that many of them have sought for years, but McCain and Graham definitely don’t care about that. Hard-liners take it as a given that any policy they dislike must “embolden” enemies and “demoralize” allies, and so they declare it to be so no matter what the policy happens to be or what the reactions to it are. That makes for horrible policy thinking and a dangerous obliviousness to reality, but it allows the hard-liners to keep pretending that the discredited policies they endorse are the right ones. It’s an exercise in reaffirming their ideological assumptions rather than accurately describing or analyzing recent developments.

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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