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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Some of you may feel that the cormorant does not play an important part in the life of the school, but I would remind you that it was presented to us by the corporation of the Town of Sudbury to commemorate Empire Day, when we try to remember the names of all those from the Sudbury area who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British.

–from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

When it comes to foreign policy, everybody’s a drama critic. Particularly on cable TV, the world outside U.S. borders is presented as an ongoing melodrama on moralistic themes.

Since melodrama requires conflict, there’s a built-in bias toward “crisis” narrative. Foreign countries, indeed entire continents, can vanish from the American imagination for decades, only to emerge as the putative flashpoints of history. (Syria! Ukraine! Nigeria!) Something must be done, or all is lost.

If they agree on nothing else, politicians and pundits who derive great self-importance from pronouncing on world affairs share a bias toward the appearance of action, often in military form.

It follows that a president whose nickname is “No-Drama Obama” has been getting very mixed foreign policy reviews. What’s more, it’s not only the Bombs-Away Caucus led by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham complaining.

“President Obama is being pummeled at home and abroad for his international leadership,” editorializes The New York Times. “The world sometimes seems as if it is flying apart, with Mr. Obama unable to fix it.”

Partly, it’s a matter of style. The president’s ostensible allies at The Times can’t stand Obama’s “maddeningly bland demeanor,” lamenting that the president’s lack of ideological zeal leaves him “too resigned to the obstacles that prevent the United States from being able to control world events as easily as it may once have done.”

Read that last bit again. Try to imagine editors waving it into print. Previous to World War II, I Americans pretty much left ruling the world to those plucky lads of Sudbury and their brethren among European colonial powers who gallantly gave their lives to keep China British, Vietnam French, Indonesia Dutch, etc.

But post-war Pax Americana notwithstanding, I’m unable to think of a time since 1945 when the U.S. controlled world events “as easily” as it does today. From the Berlin Air Lift of 1948 through the ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003, you name me a president; I’ll name you a foreign policy debacle: Budapest, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Prague, Vietnam, Iranian hostages, Lebanon, the Persian  Gulf War, Serbia, 9/11, Afghanistan…

President Obama, not so much. Indeed, for an awful lot of his critics, crisis avoidance seems to be the big problem. He’s making it look too easy, and that scares people. The Times again: Not the reality, “but the perception—of weakness, dithering, inaction, there are many names for it—has indisputably had a negative effect on Mr. Obama’s global standing.”

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45 Responses to Obama’s Drama Critics Must Miss ‘Excitement’ Of The Bush Years

  1. Our leaders were readers in John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s day. Nowadays, they can’t be bothered to read Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s pieces on Ukraine, for example, most recently in “The New Republic” xxxx and since March in “The New York Review of Books”–but I’ll bet the president and his chief advisers have. I’m convinced that this president consults experts in all of his negotiations and proceeds methodically through diplomatic channels that many politicians just don’t care about or–worse yet–perhaps don’t even know about. And it’s a good thing, too. Bush and Cheney took orders from Big Oil and just tried to silence dissent. I get the impression that most members of Congress depend on staff to get down in the deep weeds on subjects like Ukraine and only take away lists from power point presentations. This administration is not about taking orders but fashioning policy as the situation demands, behind the scenes, where discretion has a chance. I’m sure the PR side of his administration bristles at the image that Obama is indecisive. To me, I’d be that’s just the Clark Kent version of

    • I wonder if Bush/Cheney, et al., asked any cultural anthropologists what they thought might happen in Iraq and Afghanistan before they cooked up their “shock and awe” strategery (thank you, SNL)? If they had, they would probably have been told that in the case of Iraq, Shia and Sunni would probably be at each others’ throats as soon as Saddam was out of the way–and nobody likes the Kurds. In the case of Afghanistanm, tribalism would prevail regardless of efforts to “democratize” that country–if it’s really even a country as opposed to a bunch of tribal regions. So the idea that foreign policy based on real advise from people who know is abdicating responsibility and Presidential decision making is ridiculous. Instead of pushing for conflict, President Obama is allowing the people directly involved to work out their issues. Of course, there comes a time when moral right trumps letting those directly involved work it out (e.g., genocide).

      • I’m not an expert in history or politics, and I certainly don’t play one on TV or on the National Memo comment threads, but I know what love (and in-depth knowledge of a subject) IS (to reference Forrest Gump). Bush and Cheney and many other Republicans, who “refuse to be dictated to by fact-checkers,” work from a “strategery” that is really little more than a contemporary form of tribalism. They just don’t care about knowledge. So they think when the administration isn’t out there pushing the levers of power it is just waiting to see what happens–which would be wrong. The president’s consultants NEVER stop exploring their areas of expertise. For example, when I was in graduate school, I house sat for a neighbor who was a pediatric cardic surgeon. His hobby was leather working. Guided by dedicated geopolitical experts, the president only intervenes strategically but he follows the guidance of people whose interest in their areas of expertise will never be satisfied.

        • Excellent points! You can see this attitude toward following an ideology rather than taking the advice of those who have actually studied the issue in the “know-nothingism” of the far right. Often, reality is diametrically opposed to to conventional wisdom. So the far right sees, for example, one very cold winter in North America and denies climate change–while ignoring retreating glaciers, huge ice shelves in Antarctica breaking off, and unprecedented flooding in lower Manhattan due to Hurricane Sandy. They think that American military might can bring democracy to traditionally tribal societies. They believe that a lower minimum wage will lead to more jobs and a stronger economy when all available evidence shows that a higher minimum wage creates jobs and consumer demand. They ignore the social forces at work in keeping people in poverty and simply tell poor people to get a job–when there are few jobs available, especially for those with no skills because they weren’t able to get a decent education. And they still believe that trickle-down economics works without questioning why those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder should deserve only a trickle. Simplicity in thinking is the M.O. of the far right, and no amount of evidence to the contrary can move them from their positions of ignorance (sometimes deliberate). And, sadly, this simplicity in thinking isn’t confined to the uneducated. Of course not, since this is based on an ideology that promotes profit above all for the few to the detriment of the many. And the leaders of the far right are very good at convincing the “great unwashed” that simple ideas will improve their lives. After all, it’s easy to understand the obvious–even when the obvious is decidedly wrong.

          • Your post is a tour de force. Republicans and the far right are ushering a new era of anti-intellectualism at a time whens the stakes could not be higher.

          • My M.A. thesis was about intellectual sentiment (anti-intellectualism and pro-intellectualism) in Presidential Inaugural Addresses since 1900. One of the keys to anti-intellectual sentiment in these addresses was an appeal to the Almighty for guidance and a blessing on the American people (it’s almost always found in these addresses). On the pro-intellectual side, specific details about how issues are to be addressed were scored as pro-intellectual sentiment. Highest on the pro-intellectual scale was JFK’s address–which also scored highest for anti-intellectualism. Taft did well on the pro-intellectual side. This was done in the early ’70s, so I didn’t include anyone after Nixon 2. I also did not look at pro- and anti-intellectualism by party, but my guess would be that there was not a whole lot of difference by party until Reagan.

          • Fascinating! I wonder if you were influenced at all in your choice of thesis by “Anti-intellectualism in American Life” by Richard Hofstadter published in 1963, which explored the tension between the need for public education in a democracy and the concurrent demand for expertise among its leaders, many of whom were products of the country’s elite universities. Speaking of JFK’s inaugural address, I recall studying Robert Frost’s great poem “The Gift Outright,” which he recited from memory on the occasion, a cold, windy day in January 1961. At the time, it was thought that it lent a touch of high-brow culture to the event, which you can believe as long as you don’t pay attention to the words:

            The land was ours before we were the land’s.
            She was our land more than a hundred years
            Before we were her people. She was ours
            In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
            But we were England’s, still colonials,
            Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
            Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
            Something we were withholding made us weak
            Until we found out that it was ourselves
            We were withholding from our land of living,
            And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
            Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
            (The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
            To the land vaguely realizing westward,
            But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
            Such as she was, such as she would become.

          • Of course I was influenced by Hofstadter. As for Frost, if you recall, he had planned to recite another poem, but he either forgot his glasses or the copy of the poem he had written for the occasion. I got to see the inauguration live because it was a very snowy day in the Northeast–and Washington, too. Those were the days when the outgoing President (Eisenhower) accompanied the incoming President (Kennedy) to the Inauguration. I can’t see that happening today (if the party affiliation changes), especially with the current confrontational and obstructionist attitude of the two parties. . . . Maybe we’ll get to see President Obama riding with the new President Clinton to the steps of the Capitol in January of 2017.

          • This is sincerely to be hoped. We pride ourselves on a calm transition between administrations, but that was not always so. I think I saw Robert Frost reading this poem in the documentary about the poet that belongs to the “Voices and Visions” series, aired some time ago on PBS and available to those of us who teach American literature. He spoke about the wild forces of tribalism at work among the native population, colonials, and avowed enemies in clipped words that sparked and then quickly disintegrated in the air almost before they could be heard on that brisk day in January. By contrast, President Obama would never proceed impetuously or take a wild swing at one of his many enemies. Once we needed hot heads. Now it is the time to let cooler heads prevail.

          • I think you give the GOP (as a political party) way to much credit. The hold no real beliefs in economics, social dynamics, or religious dogma. Their beliefs only extend to anything that will make themselves richer and more powerful. I believe individual republicans hold many beliefs in these area’s, but the party is all about power and riches.

        • The people who accepted American troops as liberators were those who were being especially mistreated by Saddam (no surprise there). The problem was that the destabilization that followed the invasion of Iraq unleashed conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis that had been repressed by Saddam in order to run a reasonably efficient, if corrupt, government. From the ethnocentric American perspective, Iraq was better off without the dictator, Saddam, but the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure by American bombing left most people worse off, materially and culturally, than they had been before the invasion. That’s not to mention the fact that many people lost family members to both the American attacks and the factional violence. . . . That’s not a good way to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. They’re not stupid, and they can see what happened. Do you think they blame Saddam for this? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Who would you blame if your children had been killed by an American cruise missile?

    • Like the Democrats read the thousands of pages in Obamacare before they signed it. I suppose it’s still Bush/Cheney that have caused the high gasoline prices for the entire 6 years under Obama, oh, and the Trillions in debt, or 6 years of high unemployment.
      Time to stop blaming everyone else and accept responsibility for Obama’s policies and be a leader.

        • A troll is someone that masquerades themselves as being a member of the group but isn’t. I obviously am not masquerading as a low-info, Liberal/Socialist, but hopefully to enlighten you on your gullible beliefs. I know it is mostly hopeless, but fun to see the ridiculous thinking & comments,LMAO.

          • I believe you are masquerading as a member of the far-right to provoke confrontation by stringing together talking points. The fact that you do so unconvincingly makes me think you could be paid to do this. Otherwise, why draw attention to such bland ideas and familiar lies.

      • I am sure that our Gilded Age II plutocrats are delighted at your mental state developed by their malicious propagandists who keep you and those like you from looking at the real causes of the current plight of the Country: the corporations and the plutocracy who keep everyone in the 99 percent of income earners fighting among themselves as well as at last in their warped views blaming those even beneath them at the bottom of the economic pyramid for all their diminishing life styles. So, continue your role as a willful dupe to cheer the plutocrats and vote for their political stooges who are so dependent upon their wealthy support and who will in return see to their comforts and needs at the expense of all the rest of us…including you. Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck, an uneducated threesome successfully building fortunes on those like you who willingly become saturated with their bilge are surely grateful for all of you in their targeted audience.

        • The corporations that you claim are the cause of all the problems have been around for generations, however, the still rotten economy after 6 years of Obama & Dem. spending and debt still leaves many in poverty, record poverty & food stamps. Instead of actually solving problems and admitting his policies have been a failure, and the un-payable debt, the new campaign issue is raising the minimum-wage & income-inequality, to try & distract people of the real causes of the record, long-term unemployment & continuing terrible economy, that are the results of HIS policies! I believe the Democrat Party, Obama, & the giant growth of the Federal Government are delighted in your gullible mental state with all the evidence to the contrary. I am not sure what news you listen too, maybe MSNBC, but the News that you say is propaganda has been proven to be much more fact than opinion while MSNBC is 85% opinion & only 15% facts. Wake up and join the much more popular & real truth news that the majority of Americans have seen to be where to get facts, not Lies like we have had over & over by your picks.

          • I rest my case in terms of the huge success of the rightwing lunatics on too many in the Country. Rest easy in the comfortable information lounge supplied to you by the plutocrats, and I know you won’t forget to vote for the crackpots come this November who in turn will continue the Operation Phornicate program warring on the diminishing middle class and increasing the efforts to shred the social safety nets, so that as you and your fellow disciples will at last see that great day when all our citizens must fend for themselves despite the absence of personal fault for their terrible circumstances, except of course the corporations and their investors lining up for bailouts.

  2. 9/11/01
    12 U.S. diplomatic facilities attacked by terrorists
    Declaring the homeland of the 9/11 terrorists a Most Favored Nation
    Invading two countries that were not involved in 9/11
    Sole source contracts to Friends of Bush
    “You are either with us, or you are against us”
    Wanted Dead or Alive
    Water boarding redefined as an enhance interrogation technique
    Prisoners killed after enduring torture
    Renditions
    Hiding during the worst foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil
    Unsolicited massages to the German Chancellor
    Osama bin Laden at large during W’s entire tenure
    Yes, it is not too difficult to understand why the GOP is desperate to establish parallels, regardless of how ridiculous they may be, between the worst foreign policy and what has happened since President Obama was inaugurated.

  3. One thing which critics of Pres. Obama do not understand is: HE IS THE MAN OF CHANGE. He really thought through before he jumped onto Presidential bid, quite contrary from what I see now from those who are seeking to take over his job from the opposition side. From the beginning, he wanted to do things differently and he still does . He wasn’t wasting his time campaigning on CHANGE. With the help of The Norwegian Committee who awarded him in advance the Nobel Peace Prize, he has been so far successful in this arena.

  4. Republicans like a foreign policy that results in another “Rich Man’s War…but a poor man’s fight” situation…

  5. The President’s low key approach does not mean he is dithering. Wouldn’t you love to hear what he and Putin are saying to each other during their hour long conversations? Only someone who knows what he is doing could be talking to Putin for that long.

  6. “Maybe he’s not Mr. Excitement, but Obama’s made no big mistakes.

    Should the president have talked about a “red line” in Syria if he wasn’t willing to use force? No, but better to look feckless than go to war to save face. The Syrian factions deserve each other; neither is our friend.”

    How is it that being “feckless” is not a big mistake? Perhaps making an enemy of one faction in Syria might look to some as an error; but making enemies of both factions in Syria surely counts as two unforced errors (and at least one huge mistake because we endorse by default a tyrant). Especially when his fecklessness encourages the Russians to emulate thirties German Sudetenland adventure with Ukraine. [A people that the Russians (re-branded as Soviets) invaded in the 1920s, practiced ethnic genocide with “collectivization” in the thirties, accused of complicity with the Nazis after the Soviets failed to protect their SSR in the forties, built and crashed Chernobyl reactor on Ukrainian territory (rather than Russian soil for some reason?) – during all the 72 years of indignities, ethnic Russians settled on the Ukrainian lands made vacant – now those ethnics are the people that look to Putin for leadership.]

    Fecklessness did not look good on Clinton (42) in Rwanda, but non fecklessness in Bosnia was admirable. The title of this piece would have been better as “In praise of fecklessness as a foreign policy” or “the drama of leading from behind”.

    • Just keep up this drivel. It will keep know-nothing busy bodies out of the way of elected leaders who take governing seriously.

  7. Gene Lyons hits on an important point here concerning how we prioritize our affairs. Because the bulk of our used-to-be news sources are now advertising whores in the infotainment industry, flamboyancy has become the substitute for competence. All one has to do is observe how the right wing flock to maniacs like Ted Nugent to see this in action. Calm steady governance is now ridiculed as weakness while outrageous behavior and bombastic rhetoric are viewed as macho and cool.

    • > Calm steady governance is now ridiculed as weakness while outrageous behavior and bombastic rhetoric are viewed as macho and cool.

      This is the same reason Conservatives love Putin more than their own President. All this “manly men” bro-love is getting old, and it’s going to be fun to see it explode in full-tilt misogyny if Hillary runs in 2016. I bet they won’t resist the urge to claim a woman can’t represent the US in the face of manly man Putin (because we all know they secretly handle all their wars with fisticuffs between the leaders).

      • We have not yet seen anything like the sexism the republicans will demonstrate if we have a female candidate. Not only that, but in the case of either Clinton or Warren, they will claim either or both to be lesbian or transgender. Like some pathetic little boys in a treehouse with a “No Girls Allowed” sign on it, even mass doses of Viagra will not be able to rescue them from the trauma of coping with truly strong, intelligent women. They can handle Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann because they fit their outdated Tammy Wynette fantasy profile. Oh and being even dumber than they are is of course a prerequisite.

  8. Well, let’s see….The Cons of the GOP are Fascist psychopaths and Turdblossom (Rove) is a GOP Con….so, Team HIllary is correct: Rove is sick. He and the rest of his comrades/cronies should be committed to mental health facilities for treatment….the sooner, the better….

    • Improved access to good mental health treatment would reduce the size of the GOP/TP/Fundie voting base. That’s why they fought so hard to keep medical insurance away from the poor, and to keep it from covering mental and emotional counseling.

        • LOL….okay, what’s the “conspiracy theory”, Kurt? The Cons of the GOP are psychopaths…that’s a FACT, not a “conspiracy theory”. The GOP Cons, Teaidiots and Firebaggers needing mental health care is a FACT, not a conspiracy theory.
          Real conspiracy theories include: “Benghazi”, “IRS”, “AP”, “Fast and Furious” and their favorite, “Obamacare”. Each one of those have been debunked. But, thanks to the gaslighting campaign of the Fascist GOP, millions believe them to be true. Game, set, match….the truth just smacked you down, Kurt…

          • Sorry, should have put the 🙂 after my post. I was addressing Alan Richardson’s theory that republican opposition to mental health coverage for the poor was because they thought that if people became less nuts they would start voting democrat. He may be right, but it did beg the question 🙂

          • LOL…actually, that theory is pretty sound. If you think about it, if millions of GOP voters can be “deprogrammed” from the Fascist GOP’s gaslighting propaganda campaign, they’d stop voting Republican. But, it’s gonna take some serious deprogramming for that to happen. I mean, the campaign has went to so long that most of them are nearly past the point of no return….

      • Sadly, you are correct, Allan. The other major reason the GOP hate the PPACA (GOP dog whistle/gaslighting term, “Obamacare”) is the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). The MLR requires health insurance companies to spend at least 80% of their income on patient care. Many companies have to spend a higher percentage.
        In the GOP’s original idea for healthcare, the MLR was not included. That’s because the MLR reduces the profits the company can make, therefore, it also reduces insurance company executive compensation.
        Remember what “Deep Throat” said during the Watergate mess? Follow the money. So, there’s the way you can determine whether the GOP will support something or not. It’s a simple test, with just one question: “will the policy result in the wealthy and big corporations gaining more wealth and power?” If the answer is yes, the GOP are all for it, whether it’s legal or not, moral or not. This is called Neoliberalism. If the answer is no, they reject it.

  9. No question but that the Bush military surge into the Middle East was politically and energy inspired. And while it’s easy to criticize desert shield for the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”, “9/11 terrorist training camps”, etc. pitch used to sell it to the country, we’re likely to be doing our critiquing as we carpool to work, content to burn the gasoline that gets us there. The US dependence on oil is inestimable, our very survival is dependent on it. Did Bush pull the trigger far too soon? Most of us think so. But it’s equally bad, perhaps worse in some situations, to wait too long to show our intolerance for some situations. Being seen as weak or appeasing has its own consequences. It doesn’t matter if the perception is accurate, the perception alone may be sufficient to embolden those with interests contrary to our own.

    The fact is, I don’t have the information to know whether Bush knee-jerked the US into an unnecessary middle east war, nor do I have the information to judge whether Obama’s watch-and-wait, diplomatic stance is prudent with regard to Ukraine. Time will tell.

    • Kurt, let me assure you that Bush starting the Iraq war was not a “knee-jerk” reaction; the war in Iraq was planned before Bush was even elected. Bush had General Frank trying to figure out how best to attack Iraq long before 9/11. You may find this article on the lie by lie run up to the war of interest:

      Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq

      http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline

      And I have no clue why everyone thinks the war had something to do with Iraq’s oil. The war was all about starting a war so Haliburton and other contractors needed to run a war could rip off the American taxpayers for trillions of dollars. Who needs oil when you can make trillions just by defrauding the government?????????

    • By the way, with drone attacks taking out al Qaeda leaders on almost a monthly basis, showing clearly that Obama is not afraid to use force when he thinks there’s a good reason to use it, it’s clear that any world leaders who think he is a weak leader, are very mistaken.

  10. I love it when the GOP and their talking heads like to call up their John Wayne Chromosome. Of course they are the last ones who will put themselves or their kids in harms way. Nothing exemplifies a tough guy like a Chickenhawk/Neocon.

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