Bringing a knife to a nuke fight

When Sen. Kerry as presidential candidate suggested we submit our decisions to an ‘international test’ it was more than just a slip of the tongue.  “What use is liberalism beyond the rah-rah for multilateralism stuff?

Here’s a one-two punch from two of the funniest (and sharpest) columnists in print:

Mark Steyn:

The trouble is it isn’t tough, not where toughness counts.The Chicago way? Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? In Iran, this administration won’t bring a knife to a nuke fight. …But, if you’re doing the overnight show on WZZZ-AM, Mister Tough Guy’s got your number.

Jonah Goldberg:

Meanwhile, liberalism has largely checked out on both fronts, hitching both liberal realism and liberal idealism to a distinctly post-American vision. Today, the typical liberal idealist’s highest priority is for the United States to become a “member in good standing of the international community” — a euphemism for acquiescence and subservience to the mores and dictates of the European Union, the Hague, the United Nations, and, as we’ve recently seen, the selection committee for the Nobel Peace Prize. And the conventional liberal realist’s idea of clear-eyed realpolitik is for America to do — the exact same thing.

Mark Steyn

The trouble is it isn’t tough, not where toughness counts. Who are the real “Untouchables” here? In Moscow, it’s Putin and his gang, contemptuously mocking U.S. officials even when (as with Secretary Clinton) they’re still on Russian soil. In Tehran, it’s Ahmadinejad and the mullahs openly nuclearizing as ever feebler warnings and woozier deadlines from the Great Powers come and go. Even Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is an exquisite act of condescension from the Norwegians, a dog biscuit and a pat on the head to the American hyperpower for agreeing to spay itself into a hyperpoodle. We were told that Obama would use “soft power” and “smart diplomacy” to get his way. Russia and Iran are big players with global ambitions, but Obama’s soft power is so soft it doesn’t even work its magic on a client regime in Kabul whose leaders’ very lives are dependent on Western troops. If Obama’s “smart diplomacy” is so smart that even Hamid Karzai ignores it with impunity, why should anyone else pay attention?

The strange disparity between the heavy-handed community organization at home and the ever-cockier untouchables abroad risks making the commander-in-chief look like a weenie — like “President Pantywaist,” as Britain’s Daily Telegraph has taken to calling him.

The Chicago way? Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? In Iran, this administration won’t bring a knife to a nuke fight. In Eastern Europe, it won’t bring missile defense to a nuke fight. In Sudan, it won’t bring a knife to a machete fight.

But, if you’re doing the overnight show on WZZZ-AM, Mister Tough Guy’s got your number.

Jonah Goldberg

There was a time when liberals had the capacity to evoke some amount of shame from non-liberals when it came to foreign affairs. … one could generalize by saying that there was a useful division of labor whereby liberals directed our collective gaze toward various evils and injustices (famines, apartheid, illiberal regimes) and it fell to conservatives to explain why America could do only so much, if anything, to remedy them. This is one of the reasons conservatism has always had a reputation for hard-heartedness. As Emerson put it, “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Conservatives are supposed to look for the downside, the cost; this is in the national interest. The damn hippies are supposed to dream of buying the world a Coke and the conservatives are supposed to sniff that it costs too much and there’s a moral hazard in handing out soft drinks for free.

At some point over the last decade, that division of labor broke down. Consider that conservatives today are the foremost champions of democracy promotion, in all its forms, while liberals are inclined to argue that we should not — or cannot — impose our values on others. And one could even argue that conservatives became, under George W. Bush, the leading advocates of human rights and global charity. The Bush White House certainly did more to fight AIDS and other afflictions in sub-Saharan Africa and to promote women’s rights in the Middle East than President Clinton had done, and more than President Obama seems prepared to do. It is on the right that you will hear moralistic rhetoric about the evil of our enemies, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Taliban. At the same time, it is among conservatives that you will hear the most forceful calls for a hard-headed national-security policy. The debates on the right — even in the pages of National Review — show that serious realism is alive and well among conservatives.

Meanwhile, liberalism has largely checked out on both fronts, hitching both liberal realism and liberal idealism to a distinctly post-American vision. Today, the typical liberal idealist’s highest priority is for the United States to become a “member in good standing of the international community” — a euphemism for acquiescence and subservience to the mores and dictates of the European Union, the Hague, the United Nations, and, as we’ve recently seen, the selection committee for the Nobel Peace Prize. And the conventional liberal realist’s idea of clear-eyed realpolitik is for America to do — the exact same thing.

That in the progressive mind the U.N. has replaced the U.S. as the legitimate engine for global progress is hardly a new insight. Over the last decade, liberals have increasingly embraced the propositions that unilateralism — more properly: unilateralism by the United States — is necessarily a grave transgression against all that is right and good, and that it is often better to do wrong in a very large group than to do right alone. In the 1990s, these views — associated with what Charles Krauthammer calls the “New Liberalism” — were a major current in Democratic thinking, but it was not yet dominant.


The New Liberalism had a long gestation. None other than Harry Truman carried in his wallet a copy of Tennyson’s poem “Locksley Hall,” which dreamt of a day when the world would be governed by a “Parliament of man.” But while New Liberalism’s gestation was long, its delivery — at the hands of George W. Bush — was quick. In response to, among other things, Bush’s “freedom agenda” and the Left’s revolt over the Iraq War, liberal idealism and liberal realism fused, producing an alloy that is neither honorably idealistic nor profitably realistic.

This ideology is recognizably progressive in that among its defining features are a fetishization of expertise and power and an indifference to the consent of the governed. Every day, another EU brahmin waxes indignant over the idea that voters should have a say in his bureaucracy’s project. A more disturbing illustration can be found in Thomas L. Friedman’s envious words about Chinese authoritarianism: “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks,” he grudgingly conceded in a recent column. “But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.” This mindset is metastasizing throughout American progressivism today, as idealism downgrades the importance of democracy while inflating the value of power within extra-constitutional and globalist institutions.


So the old concept of American exceptionalism is dead, but fear not: America remains a standout in other ways. We produce too much carbon. We drain too many of Gaia’s resources. We haven’t “caught up” with the European Union’s enlightened policies on health care, gay rights, and transnationalism. We support Israel when much of the U.N. is dedicated to grinding it away. (The necrosis of liberal idealism was acutely evident when the Democrats’ top “realist,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, recently insinuated that America should be prepared to shoot down Israeli jets to defend Iran’s nuclear program.)

Hence the New Liberal idealists’ top priority is for the American Gulliver to fall into line with the ranks of Lilliputians. And this is pretty thin gruel as far as idealism goes. The actions of the U.N. are, on a global level, the equivalent of seeing a little girl fall down a well and saying in response: “Let’s form a committee.” Actually, they are worse than that, because some of the committees at the U.N. are notorious for throwing little girls down wells. That’s why the excitement among liberal commentators over Obama’s decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council — a den of villainy if ever there was one — was so depressing, and why Obama’s touting this decision as one of the noblest accomplishments of his administration is nothing short of perverse.

The feckless asininity and moral bankruptcy of the U.N. are the best illustration of how confused both the so-called liberal realists and the so-called liberal idealists are. If something is truly morally compelling, if our conscience forces us to take action, who cares whether the U.N. approves? Obviously it’d be nice to get some help, but how is it a moral failing on our part to shoulder more of the burden? A similar argument holds for the realists. The notion that the “international community” has America’s best interests at heart is palpably absurd. According to the Nobel Committee, President Obama won the Peace Prize because “his diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” For someone who believes that “citizen of the world” is a serious and legitimate concept, that makes sense. But if you believe that the United States of America is a sovereign entity whose sovereignty rests in its people, and that its leaders have an obligation to be jealous guardians of the American people’s interests, then conducting a foreign policy according to a global opinion poll is nonsense on stilts.

Obama has now said twice — in his two most important foreign-policy speeches, the one in Cairo and the one at the U.N. — that no country “can” or “should” dominate, or impose a system of government on, another. No statement better encapsulates how unidealistic and unrealistic the New Liberalism is. Men should not murder other men, but they most certainly can. The story of international relations has been the story of domination and imposition, often for ill, occasionally for good. Any foreign policy that doesn’t recognize this cannot be called realistic. And, in an important respect, any foreign policy that thinks America has neither the power nor the moral authority to impose its will when our conscience moves us cannot be called usefully idealistic either.

So, again, what use is liberalism on questions of foreign policy, beyond the rah-rah-for-multilateralism stuff? The Taliban throws acid in the faces of little girls trying to learn to read. If conservatives have to be the ones to point that out, what are liberals good for?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Foreign Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s