Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Democrats and the "wimp factor" 

The New York Times features a not surprisingly tedious exegesis of the persistent impression that Democratic presidents, at least since Lyndon Johnson, have been "wimps." Nefarious Republican propagandists come in for much of the blame, but not all of it. The article is reasonably fair-and-balanced, considering the source.

Some of it, though, strikes me as nonsense. Consider this short-hand explanation of Jimmy Carter's wimp image:

[T]he ill-fated antiwar candidacy of George McGovern, followed by Jimmy Carter’s inability to rescue American hostages in Iran, sealed a stereotype of Democrats as, well, wimps.

Really? Is this what the common folk believe, that the "failure to rescue" the American hostages, which occurred relatively late in the Carter administration, is why people think he was a wimp? How about the failure to retaliate against Iran for taking the hostages? The unwillingness of post-modern Democrats to endorse the use of retaliation as a foreign policy tool is the first reason why we think they are wimps. Indeed, the Iranians probably only took the hostages in the first place because they knew that Democrats just don't do retaliation.

Beyond that, though, there was an early decision by Jimmy Carter that sealed his fate with the average American, but you would never, ever, ever read it in the pages of the New York Times: In the first year of his presidency Carter pardoned the Vietnam draft dodgers, the ultimate validation of wimpiness. That did him in not only with the generation of Americans who complied with the draft, but their family and friends, too. Not to mention the then robust vets from World War II and Korea.

Then he made all the White House limousines beige, did away with "Hail to the Chief," dispatched Andrew Young to lecture our anti-communist authoritarian allies on human rights violations (while generally ignoring the greater depredations of leftist regimes) and started giving speeches in cardigan sweaters. Throw in the Olympics boycott in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Cyrus Vance as your Secretary of State, and it was a freaking miracle that American men had enough testosterone left to, er, perform.

The article does do a decent job of reviewing some of the more conciliatory foreign policy initiatives of the Obama administration, including its various gestures toward Iran (which have been rebuffed just as Bill Clinton's apology was), the "reset button" push with Russia, and the less aggressive posture toward Pakistan. None of these have produced tangible results, which even the New York Times admits. There are, however, two other bits that are almost written upside down:
Here is a president who just ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 American troops. He has stepped up drone strikes by unmanned Predators in Pakistan and provided intelligence and firepower for two airstrikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen that killed more than 60 militants. He has resisted the temptation to sign a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia that might not provide American inspectors with the level of verification detail that they want. He is moving toward the wide use of full body scans in American airports. On Thursday, in an oblique nod to the Cheney criticism, he even used the phrase “we are at war,” in describing the fight against Al Qaeda.

In order: (1) Yes, but he ramped up that war after spending more than a year thinking and talking about it. (2) Whether or not drone strikes effective, they are also the ultimate antiseptic stand-off weapon, which makes them look wimpy, not unlike the Clinton administration's preference for cruise missile strikes from offshore aircraft carriers. Better than nothing, but hardly in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt. (3) Good, except why did he have to "resist temptation" to avoid signing a bad treaty? The NYT does Democrats no favors with that line, because it reminds us that they simply love treaties. (4) "He is moving toward the wide use of full body scans in American airports." Seriously? If "moving toward" scans after a system-wide failure of the national security apparatus is a point for toughness, what would wimpiness be? (5) "In an oblique nod to the Cheney criticism, he even used the phrase 'we are at war'..." Well, we are at war. The fact that President Obama had to be pressured in to it by the Prince of Darkness Dick Cheney is only an argument for his wimpiness, not evidence against it.

Then there is this:
Then there’s terrorism. Mr. Obama will also have to demonstrate some tangible action there, the experts say, to dispel the notion put forward by the Republicans that his plans to shut down the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, makes Americans less safe. The Christmas Day attempted plane attack over Detroit failed in many ways, but it succeeded in doing one thing: reintroducing the issue of terrorism into the American psyche. Now, Mr. Obama is under pressure to show that he considers fighting terrorism to be a priority.

The problem though, is that many of the steps he can take against terrorism — like intelligence co-operation, drone strikes and covert actions — are, by their very nature, often invisible. “He needs visible victories there, like hits on Al Qaeda leaders, so no one is able to put together a narrative that says he’s weak,” said David J. Rothkopf, a Clinton administration official and author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power.”

Right, but one of the most visible aspects of the Obama administration's anti-terror policy is the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as a criminal in federal court in New York. That decision gives effect to the manifest preference of Democrats to use cops and lawyers against terrorists rather than soldiers and spies. Now, you can decide whether it is fair to characterize that preference as "wimpy," but if you are the newspaper of record you ought not ignore its impact on the electorate's perceptions.

Sometimes you wonder whether the editors and reporters of the New York Times ever read any history.


By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Jan 10, 10:52:00 AM:

The fact that we have elected a man whose personal philosphy is like Carter-on-steroids does little to restore my faith in the wisdom of the average American.

I finished my education and started a family during the Carter years. We considered ourselved blessed taht we found a mortgage on our first home for the ridiculously low rate of 12.5%.

And Carter did try to rescue the hostages...remember. He sent helicopters in at night over the desert and they crashed into each other and the mission was aborted and never tried again.

Remember the "Misery Index", "The Great National Malaise", no US response when the Shah was overthrown. The latter was probably the first domino in the emergence of Islamic Fascism as a geopolitical force.

Carter was, an is, an iconic moron. Who better to share the Nobel Prize with BO.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sun Jan 10, 11:11:00 AM:

Completely agree about the cardigan.  

By Anonymous Locker Room, at Sun Jan 10, 12:09:00 PM:

"Sometimes you wonder whether the editors and reporters of the New York Times ever read any history."

Always I wonder why anyone other than a partisan leftist would ever read the New York Times.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 10, 04:00:00 PM:

Don't forget the strategic retrenchment was not only evident in the Iranian and Afghan fiascoes but also in the betrayal and collapse of Nicaragua, which moreso than Iran, signaled a complete collapse in the American government's will to use its power.

Obama is worse; while it took Carter 4 years for his disasterous foreign policy to fully manifest itself, in less than one year we have gotten; Iran, the betrayal of Eastern Europe, the unilateral disarmament in the face of Russia, the bended knee around the planet to people like Chavez, the coddling of rabid Muslims and Palestinians, and the Honduras fiasco. Nice.

We won't make it 4 years without a major blowup in the international system. (it will not survive the power vacuum and Obama's fecklessness.)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 10, 04:32:00 PM:

> Indeed, the Iranians probably only
> took the hostages in the first place
> because they knew that Democrats just
> don't do retaliation.

AFAIK, the Iranians also considered to do the same (or something similar) to the Soviets, but they decided against it.

Although this happened later, so it couldn't be a deterrent at the time, I am sure the Iranians knew why they shouldn't mess with the Soviets:

The story of the tactic applied by the Soviets during the earliest days of the Lebanon chaos is a case in point. When three of its citizens and their driver were kidnapped and killed, two days later the Soviets had delivered to the leader of the revolutionary activity a package containing a single testicle- that of his eldest son-with a message that said in no uncertain terms, never bother our people again." It was successful throughout the period of the conflicts there.


However, I have to add, that I also read another version of this story (or maybe it was another just similar?) So some Lebanese kidnapped and killed some Soviets, and the Soviets kidnapped the head (or the person responsible) of the group, cut off his private parts, stuffed into his mouth, killed him, and left him at a prominent place as a warning.

A lot of times I wonder if western touch-feeliness and obsession of not doing too much damage doesn't contribute to the deterioration of the problems to the point that at the end only a big war can resolve it.


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jan 10, 04:41:00 PM:

Yes, it is the accumulation of conciliatory incidents that creates this impression about the Democrats. Any one of them might be defensible as a prudent move in the context of a more robust peace-through-strength foreign policy. In the aggregate, they inform us that this is the Democrats default position.

Once assuming the presidency, receiving the intelligence reports, and having it dawn on them that they, as CiC are responsible for the safety of the American people, the Democratic presidents have all moved to a slightly more aggressive posture. Too little, too late, I fear.

More telling is the continued tolerance for the wing of the Democratic Party that is simply insane, forever accusing the US of initiating every quarrel, complaining that diplomacy has not even been tried, and believing that nefarious corporate (or primitive redneck, depending on this week's PR campaign) interests are at the root of our problems. It is true that these are not the majority of Democrats. There are enough of them, however, that they must be stroked and placated in order for a Dem to get elected. They are not repudiated, but soothed by their leaders. Yes, your way is the best in the long run, but occasionally - just this once - we have to bow to internal and external political pressures and take military action.

This is not a group they are in danger of losing to the Republicans, but to the Greens, or to just staying home. Or closing their wallets. Like many of the components of the Democratic coalition, they hold the party hostage. The irony of that is how frequently the Democrats accuse Republicans of pandering (to Wall Street, the Religious Right, Big Whatever, Bogeyman-of-the-week). There is some pandering in that direction, but never nearly as much as reported. The Democrats believe it because they think that is the only way business is done.

They cannot conceive of things being otherwise. Cannot. Conceive. And inability is the faultline for our political divide.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Jan 10, 08:15:00 PM:

Vilmos, in either The Persian Puzzle or Guests of the Ayatollah -- can't remember which -- it is recounted that the Iranian radicals who precipitated the hostage crisis originally though about taking the Soviet embassy, and decided that was a bad idea.  

By Anonymous Jim Clay, at Sun Jan 10, 09:09:00 PM:

C'mon, Tigerhawk. How can you talk about Carter and "wimpiness" and not mention the killer bunny!  

By Blogger Brian, at Sun Jan 10, 11:20:00 PM:

Re increasing Afghan troop levels, TH writes "(1) Yes, but he ramped up that war after spending more than a year thinking and talking about it."

That's not right, TH. Obama nearly doubled troop levels from the wimpy Bush levels even before the recent decision:

"For Afghanistan, troops in-country grew gradually from 5,200 in FY2002 to 20,400 in FY2006.
Between FY2006 and FY2008, average strength there jumped by another 10,000 to 30,100.
Under the Administration’s plans, CRS estimates that average monthly Boots on the Ground in
Afghanistan may increase to 50,700 in FY2009 with a further increase to 63,500 the following
year once all new units are in place."


Also, he has been in office for less than a year and the review leading to still more troops started this summer, as I recall.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Jan 10, 11:24:00 PM:

I suspect he was counting Obama's campaign, during which he spent kind of a lot of time talking about Afghanistan.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 11, 12:09:00 AM:

Several other incidents in that era (that '70's era) are also worth remembering, with regards to the fecklessness of the Democratic party with regards to foreign policy.
The undermining and budget cut-off of military aid to the Republic of South Viet Nam after we had promised to support them, during the SECOND invasion from the North that eventually succeeded in defeating the South. This was led by Tipp O'Neil and catapulted him to the Speakership. Hooray.
In late 1979, the US Ambassador was kidnapped by "radicals" resisting the Soviet backed puppet government in Kabul (Afghanistan, you say?).
The Soviets led the storming of the embassy, which got the "radicals" (now read "Jihadists maybe?), and also got our Ambassador killed. Nice touch, Jimmy. Things went downhill from there. And this was while the silliness was going on in Teheran.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 11, 12:21:00 AM:

Bruce Flatin – Kabul 1979:

Assassination of an Ambassador

"On February 14, 1979, as the Soviet Union was emerging as a much stronger force in Afghanistan in the months prior to its December invasion of that country, Ambassador Adolph “Spike” Dubs was on his way to the U.S. Embassy when his car was stopped and he was taken at gunpoint to the Kabul Hotel. Learning of the ambassador’s abduction, political counselor Bruce Flatin sped over to the hotel, where he encountered Soviet and Afghan officials who claimed that the assailants were terrorists demanding the release of political prisoners. Throughout the four-hour stand off, Flatin repeatedly emphasized the U.S. insistence (relayed from Secretary of State Cyrus Vance) that no precipitous action be taken that could threaten Dubs’s life. However, despite the assurances received from officials on the spot, troops located in a building across the street and inside the hotel suddenly began to fire on the room where the ambassador was held. Then, after a lull and the entry of Afghan police into the room, more gunshots were heard by the Americans forced to wait outside in the hotel corridor. When he finally was allowed inside, Flatin found the ambassador dead, slumped over in a chair. It has never been discovered precisely why Ambassador Dubs was killed on that day or by whom."

Cyrus Vance was a fine public servant, but he fits in the description by AVI above as the amount of "reasonable" acts of being conciliatory, and where that will lead.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jan 11, 06:34:00 PM:

A slightly disimilar account, taken from KGB archives.

"On 14 February 1979 the US Ambassador, Adolph 'Spike' Dubs, was kidnapped in broad daylight by four Maoist 'guerrillas' and taken at gunpoint to the Hotel Kabul, where they demanded the release of some of their imprisoned comrades from Afghan jails in return for Dubs' release. On the advice of his KGB advisers, Amin ordered an Afghan assault group, armed with Kalashnikovs and wearing Soviet bullet-proof jackets, to storm the hotel. In the shootout which followed, Dubs and two of his kidnappers were killed, a third was captured, and the fourth escaped. The KGB then embarked on an immediate coverup to hide their part in the operation and conceal as effectively as possible responsibility for Dubs' death"

The account then details the coverup, including restrictions on the American investigation, lies told to the US about the event through official channels, and planted/falsified evidence. It's fairly obvious that the Afghan 'assault group' killed the Ambassador, presumably by mistake.

Account from 'The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World,' p. 390-391.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Jan 11, 10:42:00 PM:

Brian, you are counting troops taken away from Iraq to go into Afghanistan. That may indeed have been the wise thing to do, but is it quite the same as a troop increase?  

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