November 29, 2009

Different Emperor, Same Empire

Like most self-described conservatives, Victor Davis Hanson longs for the not so distant past, back when machismo ruled the day, when men were men and presidents weren’t afraid to swagger. Sure, G.W. Bush’s swagger “may have made things unpopular for America among the masses. But his enemies knew that he would do what it takes to protect the US.” Under Emperor Bush, Hanson tells us,

There was a general recognition among unhinged regimes—a Cuba, Saddam’s Iraq, a Libya, a North Korea, a Syria, Venezuela—that regional aspirations were, well, contained. Redlines were everywhere—Taiwan was sacrosanct; so was South Korea. Israel would not be destroyed. Europe would not face a Russian invasion. And so on. A Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Gaddafi, Arafat, etc. would be “corralled” and not allowed to destroy the Western-inspired global order.

Unlike Bush, Hanson writes, President Obama is a wimp, a softie—so much so in fact that he’s “undermining old-fashioned deterrence.” Consequently, Hanson writes,

If I were in Manila, I’d start learning Chinese; if in Tokyo, I’d think about massive rearmament. I would not wish to be in NATO if east of Berlin—“allies” in the West would (cf. 1939) stay theoretic and distant, enemies would be concrete and proximate.

The survival of Israel now depends on its pilots and missiles, not on any guarantees from the US. In today’s currency, what we guarantee is worth about as much as US treasury bills, or promises of missile defense for Eastern Europe. If I were an Israeli, I’d either pray for the skill and audacity of the nation’s Air Force pilots, or begin cultivating India, Russia, and China, or that and more.

On and on he goes, rehashing a talking point we’ve heard countless times over the past ten months: Through intimidation and military might, Bush kept us safe, while Obama’s peacemongering is just emboldening our enemies. Needless to say, this claim is bound to garner sympathy from your average Sarah Palin devotee, but, upon just a little examination, it becomes clear that it’s deeply flawed.

First of all, it’s simply not the case that Bush’s “old-fashioned deterrence” kept America’s enemies in check. It was under Bush, let’s remember, that Iran accelerated its nuclear program and that Syria began a nuclear program of its own. It was also under Bush that North Korea expelled the IAEA and performed its first test of a nuclear weapon. Moreover, Bush’s “old-fashioned deterrence” didn’t prevent jihadists from flocking to Iraq and Afghanistan to kill American troops; it didn’t prevent Hugo Chavez from asserting his strength throughout South America; and it didn’t prevent Russia from attacking US ally Georgia.

It’s also untrue to say that Obama has kowtowed to America’s enemies. As anyone who’s followed the news since January can testify, the United States relies on intimidation and brute force as much today as it ever has. Since taking office, Obama has kept troop levels in Iraq at around 130,000 and has added 21,000 (soon to be 55,000) forces to Afghanistan. He’s authorized the CIA to continue its Predator drone attacks in Pakistan and bullied President Zardari into escalating his war against militants in the FATA. And, just like Bush, Obama has taken a hard line against Iran, agreeing to try diplomacy but threatening sanctions if Iran doesn’t ultimately comply with America’s wishes.

Yes, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay, and yes, he reached out to the Muslim world, kind of (but not really) apologizing for past US atrocities and claiming that there’s a new, more culturally-sensitive, sheriff in town. But, as his actions have shown, that was all just a PR move. Though the Guantanamo prison will eventually close (well, maybe), Obama has asserted that the US has the right to permanently detain people who’ve never even been convicted of a crime. And although many right-wingers are having a hissy fit that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to be tried in a New York court, that’s just more PR. It turns out that the Obama crew is going to continue holding military tribunals for those detainees it doesn’t believe it can convict in federal court.

As far as the Israelis go, it’s simply laughable to claim that Obama has turned his back on them. Under his administration, the US continues sending billions of dollars their way and defending even their most egregious war crimes. It’s true that Obama asked them to stop building settlements in the West Bank, hoping this might foster peace talks with the Palestinians, but when they refused to comply, he praised them anyway.

So don’t worry, Victor Davis Hanson. Your American Empire is still here. Sure, it’s been given a minor facelift, but, if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s just as nasty and brutal and murderous as ever. Or, to put it in your words, “old-fashioned deterrence” is alive and well.

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