The Post‘s Jennifer Rubin closed her posting yesterday with a fairly archetypal conservative critique of President Obama’s approach to international relations (“The shrinking superpower“). It more or less echoes the Krauthammer blurb that I rubbished a few days ago. Obama is being too cautious/He’s emboldening our enemies/International consensus is unnecessary to act in Libya/etc.
Above all, Rubin can’t understand why the administration isn’t willing to saddle up, throw on the human-rights-knight-in-shining-armor gear, and stomp out Libya’s bad guys. The Middle East is skeptical about American intentions? WHAT?!? She provides ample proof of neo-conservatism’s tin ear for nuance in international relations with this (unintentionally) hilarious line:
Well, if we are in such low regard, hasn’t Obama failed in his “Muslim outreach”? Maybe the problem wasn’t simply George W. Bush.
You’ve got it in one, Jennifer. Obama’s had a little over two whole years to change hearts and minds in the Middle East. If we’re still not well-liked in the neighborhood now, he must have failed. Let’s wheel out the cruise missiles. After all, if you don’t immediately win them over, it’s fair to conclude that you can’t reason with opponents, right? Maybe the solution was simply George W. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy! (Also, a side note: is that last line an Islamophobic gesture to the “Middle Eastern culture is anti-democratic/anti-American/etc” crowd? Yikes.)
Or maybe—just maybe?—decades of arming and supporting the region’s dictators can’t be undone that quickly (remind me again where Mubarak’s weapons came from? You know, the ones he used on his own people?). Maybe American collective guilt in their violence can’t be wished away so easily? It’s going to take more than two years of diplomatic outreach to atone for those sins (and whether Obama is actually reaching out enough in the Middle East is another argument). The problem wasn’t simply George W. Bush. The problem was (is) that the United States has a very checkered record on human rights in the region. We don’t credibly fit into the human-rights knight’s shining armor.
But neo-conservatives operate at supersonic speeds. Diplomacy didn’t work right away? I bet a cluster bomb will! If they won’t listen, then there’s no point in trying! Guess what? We’re back to cruise missile diplomacy—the highly-touted, highly-effective, dubiously-Christian eye-for-an-eye approach. No doubt about it—she’s trigger happy:
What makes this all the more appalling is that we have had the 9/11 experience. Doing nothing when provoked and playing defense gave us 3,000 dead Americans. Unless we are on offense, our allies will be inclined to do very little and our enemies will run rampant. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what is going on now.
No, I don’t think so. What makes this appalling is that Rubin is certain that there’s an easy answer to the crisis in Libya. She’s positive that the right way to proceed is quick, decisive, American violence. What’s appalling is that she thinks this is the only answer that makes sense—otherwise we’re “granting recalcitrant allies and aggressive competitors veto power.”
What makes this even more appalling is that she thinks “the 9/11 experience” came on the heels of “doing nothing” and “playing defense.” That’s not even remotely true…unless the only actions that count as “doing something” are active violence in a region.
“Appalling” might not even be strong enough language. Rubin’s so convinced of her position vis-a-vis the Middle East that even the administration’s caution in international affairs looks to her like surrender. To the prideful soul, humility is equivalent to pusillanimity.
Once again (I may end every international relations post with this from now on), Reinhold Niebuhr:
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
In this case (at the risk of overdoing it), Ms. Rubin, the key lines are: “Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
**Update, 10:20: More reason to be cautious about American military intervention. As noted in the post, because of our priors, Libyans may not be ready to welcome us as leaders of any efforts to assist. Neo-cons’ memories are as truncated as their view of the future.