“Appeasement” – “Weakness and doubt” – “Effeminacy” – “Soft sentimentalism” – “Naiveté” – “A lack of realism” – “A failure to adhere to demanding moral principles” – “A crisis in values” – “An aversion to martial, manly virtues that make nations strong and give life meaning!”
These are the ways many conservative politicians and pundits are characterizing President Obama and his foreign policy.
John McCain charged that Obama’s foreign policy allowed Putin to invade, take over and annex Crimea because the world now has the “perception that the United States is weak.” (The New York Times, March 14, 2014)
Sarah Palin said that “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our President as one who wears mom jeans.” (Fox News)
Donald Rumsfeld bashed Obama on his handling of the Afghanistan disengagement saying that “a trained ape could do better” and that “United States diplomacy has been …embarrassingly bad.” (Fox News)
Dick Cheney critiqued the Obama Administration as “incompetent and lack[ing] principles and values.” (Fox News)
Bill Kristol opined in 2002 that the “era of American weakness and doubt in response to terrorism is over.”
None of this is new. For years conservatives have characterized themselves as the heroic defenders of American strength, virility and competence regardless of the complexity of the issues, their own hidden agendas and the dire consequences of their actions.
Peter Beinart analyzed their rhetoric this way:
“Today, hawks still link appeasement and effeminacy. Last month, for instance, after comparing the ‘bare-chested Putin’ to ‘Barack Obama, in his increasingly metro-sexual golf get-ups,’ National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson suggested that Putin’s aggression might finally rouse Americans to peer ‘into ourselves—we the hollow men, the stuffed men of dry voices and whispers’ and get tough.” (“Vladimir Putin – Russian Neo-Con”, Atlantic, March 24, 2014): http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/03/vladimir-putin-russian-neocon/284602/
It is chutzpah that the very people most critical of Obama and his foreign policy used innuendo, distortion and lies to take the United States into war against Iraq on the false claims that Sadaam Hussein was in league with Al Qaida and had WMD.
Less we forget, the Iraqi war that the United States initiated resulted in 200,000 dead Iraqi civilians and 6,781 dead American soldiers along with hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis maimed, injured and traumatized.
Nor should we forget that America ran up a bill for that war of $1.7 trillion, an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, and expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades including interest – an equivalent sum of $75,000 for every American household, and that we sent Iraq back into the dark ages while removing the only counter-balance to Iran’s ascendency in the Middle East.
Those who want America yet again to brandish our swords and strike after all we and the victims of violence have suffered at their hands and all the negative international consequences ought to be doing t’shuvah for their sins and then think about whether they ought to speak at all given all the mistakes they made!
If we have learned anything in the past decade, it should be that our response to international conflict should not leave behind the impression that the United States is the nastiest, toughest and biggest bully on the planet. Rather, the world should see America as affirming diplomacy over violence, finesse over force, and negotiated compromise over militancy lest we make a mockery further of our democratic values and our faith in life as a sacred gift. As I see it, that is part of what Obama has been trying to do in several very tough international theaters.
Yes, there are times when an American military response is justifiable and necessary. Yet, it is easy to rush into war and almost always devastating when we do.
The words of the American Civil War Union General, William Tucumseh Sherman (1820-1891), are instructive: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”
When Peter Beinart shined a light on conservative gender rhetoric last week, I recalled what the spiritual teacher David Steindl-Rast wrote years ago concerning the difference between feminine and masculine power:
“The very concept of women’s power is different from that of men. Women’s power is the power to foster new life and growth…If more people would understand how this life-giving power differs from power over others, the world would be a more peaceful, healthy and sane place.” (Essential Writings, p. 11)
The world would be well-served if American leaders from both major political parties were a bit more “feminine” and a lot more concerned about the well-being of every human being who will be affected by what our foreign policy does, more like mothers who instinctively cherish their children and act lovingly and responsibly on their behalf.