City of Brass

City of Brass


No, they aren’t serious

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The following is the key foreign policy critique made of Obama by Republicans, in this case well-summarized by GOP Representative Mike Pence:

On the foreign stage, the American people know that weakness arouses evil. They know that bowing and kowtowing to foreign dictators only diminishes our standing in the world. And they know that standing idly by while the Ayatollahs in Iran crush innocent civilians, clamoring for free elections, is totally inconsistent with our history of standing with those who stand for freedom around the world. Ronald Reagan didn’t stand before the Brandenburg Gate and say, “Mr. Gorbachev, that wall is none of our business.” The American cause is freedom and in that cause we must never be silent again.

Daniel Larison rightly labels this “idealistic claptrap” but then worries that Pence might actually mean what he says:

what worries me is that Pence may actually think this is a serious criticism of Obama’s foreign policy. In 1956, our President did not confuse the American cause with the cause of Hungarian rebels, admirable and courageous as those rebels were, and WWIII was avoided. Indeed, it was the empty rhetoric of rollback fanatics who led those Hungarians to believe that they would receive U.S. support if they rose up. They believed the fantasy that “the American cause is freedom,” and they were killed as a result. That is precisely what Pence is urging our government to do with respect to Iran. In other words, he is calling on our government to give Tehran a pretext for even bloodier repression.

I think that the GOP’s hagiographic myth of Reagan as Slayer of Communism has power like any myths, and that the GOP is invoking that myth in much the same way that shamans invoke the spirit world – as a totem which they can use to give them power over their foe. The sad irony here is that Republicans don’t really believe in the Freedom that they asccribe to Reagan, but would in practice follow the same Kissinger-ian realpolitik as reagan actually did – those political dissidents who represent a threat to regimes we disfavor would be hailed as champions of freedom and those who threaten regimes we favor would be denounced as terrorists. Invoking “freedom” as a critique of our foreign policy towards Iran in particular is so unbelievably and simultaneously synical, hypocriitical, and ignorant that there’s it’s breathtaking. Almost, in a perverse way, admirable really.

I don’t think that Pence really believes what he is saying – like the rest of the GOP, he hasn’t spent any substantial effort in formulating a principled, pragmatic foreign policy based on key ideals (though he pretends to). Instead, foreign policy is just another blunt object with which to batter the great Satan. When this club wears out they will simply reach for another at hand – and all such clubs will be retired when someone acceptable is in power again. The intervening damage done to our nation’s self-interest and our political discourse in the interim are, of course, of no concern.

It would frankly be rather comforting if Pence did believe what he says, because then at least he would beguided by principles which could be appealed to. Instead, it’s frightening how noble principles like freedom are nothing more than – if you’ll pardon the vulgarity – nothing more than whores to be used and disposed of by the Republican political leadership.

Related – the GOP’s critique of domestic policy is equally fatous.



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