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“Sleeping Under A Rock”: Foreign Policy And The Definition Of ‘Manhood’

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded a deeply pessimistic note about Russian incursions into Ukraine. “I think we’re going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it’s going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs,” Corker told David Gregory.

Naturally, the Republican senator blamed the Obama administration, complaining that U.S. foreign policy “is always a day late and a dollar short,” adding that Russia’s actions are emblematic of the “era of permissiveness the U.S. has created around the world.”

It was the New York Times’ David Brooks, however, that took this same line of criticism to its “crude” limit.

“Basically since Yalta we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders and once that comes into question if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world all bets are off.

“And let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a – I’ll say it crudely – but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”

As Ben Armbruster noted, Chuck Todd echoed the sentiment, adding, “By the way, internally, they fear this. You know, it’s not just Bob Corker saying it, okay, questioning whether the president is being alpha male. That’s essentially what he’s saying: He’s not alpha dog enough. His rhetoric isn’t tough enough.”

It’s tough to know what to make of this, but it’s clearly important so let’s unpack it a bit.

Right off the bat, let’s note that it’s arguably well past time for the political world to stop equating “manhood” with “cruise missiles.” Being an “alpha male” or an “alpha dog” may somehow seem impressive, in a junior-high-school-yard sort of way, but when analyzing geopolitical crises, we need a different kind of framework.

There’s apparently a knee-jerk assumption among too many that “real men” use bombs, not diplomacy. If memory serves, President Obama’s predecessor, whom no one accused of having a perceived “manhood problem,” often thought the same way. The foreign policy consequences, however, were nevertheless disastrous.

What’s more, I’m struck by Brooks’ assumption that the White House isn’t “tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad.” Indeed, that already happened last year, when Obama threatened military force and Assad agreed to give up his chemical-weapons stockpiles.

Indeed, perhaps the strangest thing about asserting as fact that “there is an assumption” that Obama is “not tough enough” is all of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – even if we define “tough” in a way Brooks and others find satisfactory. It was this president who escalated the use of force against al Qaeda; it was this president that launched the mission that killed bin Laden; it was this president who increased the use of predator drones to strike at terrorist suspects (including killing Americans affiliated with al Qaeda living abroad); it was this president who helped assemble an international coalition to strike at the Gadhafi regime in Libya; and on and on.

If you knew literally nothing about the last five years, you might hear this chatter about “manhood” and “alpha males” and assume that President Obama was a pacifist, reluctant to use military force under any circumstances. But given what we know about what actually happened over the last five years, the scuttlebutt is just bizarre.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 21, 2014

April 23, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, Russia | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Utterly Irrelevant Man”: NYT Mag Offers Inexplicable 2006 John McCain Cover Profile In 2013

In the last couple of years, every time something John McCain says makes “news,” my immediate reaction—sometimes on Twitter, sometimes just in my head—is, “Remind me again why anybody should give a crap what John McCain thinks about anything?” I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory answer to this question. And here comes star reporter Mark Leibovich, author of the well-received This Town, with a 6,634-word cover profile of McCain for next week’s New York Times Magazine. Do we need another one of these? I would have answered “no” before reading, but after, I’m even more sure.

If you’re doing this kind of profile, the first thing you have to do is answer, “Why?” Why do we care what McCain is up to? Did you learn anything important or interesting by following him around for a few days? Leibovich gives a shot to answering this question, and fails completely. He acknowledges all the clichés that have been attached to McCain over the years (maverick!), but then, without acknowledging it, indulges in the cliché that undergirds all the others: that whatever is happening now, John McCain is at the center of it:

McCain has another favorite Teddy Roosevelt phrase, “the crowded hour,” which I have heard him invoke several times over the years. It comes from a poem by the English writer Thomas Mordaunt, and T. R. used it to famously describe his charge on San Juan Hill. In McCain’s philosophy, “the crowded hour” refers to a moment of character testing. “The ‘crowded hour’ is as appropriate for me right now as any in a long time,” McCain told me as we walked through the Capitol. In some respects, this is just a function of public figures’ tendency to overdramatize the current moment and their role in it. But five years after losing to Barack Obama, after enduring the recriminations between his splintered campaign staff and rogue running mate, Sarah Palin, and after returning to the Senate and falling into a prolonged funk, McCain finds himself in the midst of another crowded hour, maybe his last as an elected leader.

And just how is John McCain in this ‘crowded hour,’ shaping critical events? How is his character being tested? Well let’s see. In the next paragraph, Leibovich tells us that McCain thinks Barack Obama is a foreign policy disaster. An opinion shared by most Republicans (Obama hasn’t even started any new wars, for pete’s sake!), but holding that opinion doesn’t constitute doing anything. Next, Leibovich tells us, “McCain also finds himself in the thick of the latest ‘fight for the soul of the G.O.P.’ against the Tea Party right.” “In the thick” of it, is he? And what does that mean? Will McCain have some large influence over that fight for the party’s soul? Of course not. Every once in a while he’ll give a surly comment, like when he referred to Tea Partiers as “wacko birds,” but he won’t be organizing any faction, or leading anybody, or doing anything at all that will determine the outcome of that fight. Nevertheless, Leibovich assures us, McCain does go on TV a lot. You might argue that makes him relevant (“I think the biggest fear John has is not being relevant,” says his little buddy Lindsey Graham), but spending a lot of time chatting with Wolf Blitzer is not the same thing as having an impact on developing events.

So let’s ask: What are the standards we could use to judge whether a senator is an important figure, at least more important than most of his or her 99 colleagues? After all, nobody’s writing Times Magazine cover profiles of Mike Johanns or John Hoeven. How is it that they’re less important than John McCain? An important senator might be influencing critical legislation. No dice there: McCain never much cared about lawmaking (in his three decades in Congress, he authored exactly one important law, which was later eviscerated by the Supreme Court). He might later become a presidential candidate, which is why we pay attention to people like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, even if they’re ridiculous. No dice there either; McCain won’t be running for the White House again. He might lead some important constituency, or exercise great influence over his colleagues. Nothing there either; McCain represents basically no one, and he has never been popular with other senators. He might be championing an issue that will grow in import in the near future. Nothing there either. He might have some truly profound ideas that will shape policy in years to come. Can you name an important idea John McCain is advocating for?

So all that’s left is that John McCain is important because he gets invited on Meet the Press a lot. If you’re looking for something beyond that, you won’t find it in this article.

Leibovich is a good reporter, which is why this piece is so puzzling. Not just in that he makes some of the same blunders so many other reporters profiling McCain have made, like credulously quoting McCain saying he never talks about his experience in Vietnam—not only completely false (he talks about it all the time*), but a transparent way of making sure that the reporter includes in his story both a tribute to McCain’s modesty and a lengthy description of his POW ordeal. But more critically, what boggles the mind is that Leibovich (not to mention his editors) thought there was something to be learned with yet another 6,600-word profile of John McCain that reads exactly like every other profile of McCain you’ve ever read, from the Vietnam tribute to the description of his full schedule to the admiring quotes from Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to the awe at his mavericky maverickness. I’ll save you the trouble: there isn’t.

* I just want to add that it isn’t just Leibovich who says this, just like so many other reporters who have written about McCain. In another portion of the article, Liebovich discusses a luncheon Harry Reid organized to honor the anniversary of McCain’s captivity:

“John told a lot of little poignant stories,” Susan Collins of Maine told me. “When John was tied up in such a painful position, he talked about the one guard who would loosen the bonds. He told the story of being out in the yard on Easter, and how one of the guards drew a little cross in the sand, just to acknowledge the holiday, and then rubbed it out so no one would get in trouble.” Collins has spent more than a hundred hours on airplane trips with McCain, she says, and has never heard him tell these stories.

Really? Then Collins ought to pay more attention to the news, because I’ve seen McCain tell that story a dozen times. His 2008 campaign even made an ad telling the story. For the record, as I’ve said many times, McCain has every right to talk about Vietnam as much as he wants and get whatever political mileage he can out of it. But when he and other people claim he’s terribly reticent about ever bringing it up, they just aren’t telling the truth.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American prospect, December 18, 2013

December 19, 2013 Posted by | John McCain | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beyond The Borders Of Logic And Reason”: The Threat Of Terrorism Is Still Making People Really Stupid

When you’re a partisan, you have a certain obligation to be, well, partisan. That means you have to put the things your side does in the best light and the things the other side does in the worst light. Their motives are always suspect while your are always pure, and if anything goes wrong it was obviously their fault, while if anything goes right they had nothing to do with it.

But just how far does this obligation extend? How far beyond the borders of logic and reason can you ride it? The unfortunate answer is, pretty darn far.

As you’ve heard, the administration ordered a number of embassies, mostly in the Middle East, closed for a few days because of some “chatter” relating to a potential al Qaeda attack. Republican Congressman Peter King said that this demonstrates that “Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11,” which is kind of like saying that the fact that the Backstreet Boys are currently touring shows that they’re even more popular than they were in the 1990s. And for some unfathomable reason, Rick Santorum was invited on Meet the Press on Sunday, and when he was asked about the significance of this potential attack, here’s what he said:

Oh, I think it’s a huge deal. And I think it’s really a consequence of the policies of this administration. I mean, if you look at Benghazi and what happened there. We had an attack on our embassy. We’ve seen really nothing other than cover-ups. We haven’t seen anything from this administration really go after the people who are responsible, or the network behind it. And I’m sure if you’re looking at it from a terrorist perspective, you say, “Well, here’s an administration that’s pulling back, that’s timid, and an opportunity to go after additional embassies.” So this is to me a direct consequence from what we saw in Benghazi.

Oh for pete’s sake. Now let’s think about this for a moment. What actually happened here? Well, American intelligence agencies, through whatever combination of techniques they’re employing, picked up information leading them to conclude that some kind of an attack or series of attacks was imminent. The government then decided to take action to make it more difficult for those attacks to take place, in a highly public way that no doubt had as one of its purposes letting the potential perpetrators know that we’re on to them. Unless there is an attack, this would seem like exactly what we want the government to do. Success, right?

But Santorum wants us to believe that this is actually a terrible failure! Sure, we may have headed off the attack, but just the fact there are still terrorists in the world who would even contemplate committing acts of terrorism shows how weak Barack Obama is.

Now, perhaps one should be asking, “Why the hell would Meet the Press think anyone gives a crap what Rick Santorum thinks?” Is he really the best person they could get to represent the Republican view of things? A former senator and failed presidential candidate, widely acknowledged to be one of the most repellent characters in American politics in the last couple of decades? What was the producers’ meeting like that week? “You know who we should try to book? Rick Santorum! He’s terrific! And such an important and influential voice!” “Ooh, great idea, Biff—get on it!”

Back on Earth, when you identify a possible terrorist attack and take steps to prevent it, that’s a good thing, even if there’s a Democrat in the White House. But I wonder what your average middle-of-the-road voter thinks when she hears stuff like this. Is she turned off by it? Does it not really bother her, or make even the tiniest difference in how she looks at the parties and how she might vote next time around? Now imagine if Rick Santorum had said, “This is certainly serious, but let’s give credit where it’s due—if what we’re hearing is accurate, we should commend the intelligence analysts for locating this threat, and the Obama administration did the right thing by closing the embassies as a precaution.” People watching would have said, “Wow, maybe Santorum is a more thoughtful, reasonable guy than I thought.”

But hey, it isn’t just Republicans! Here’s Candy Crowley asking Lindsey Graham, “Since the mission of terrorists is to terrorize, in some sense do you feel as if they’ve already won?” Because we temporarily closed some embassies! Of all the reactions to the threat of terrorism you could come up with, that’s about the least terrorized you could imagine. Something about this topic seems to turn so many people into idiots.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Angry Old Man”: John McCain Plants His Flag In The Fever Swamps

It wasn’t that new or surprising, but Sen. John McCain’s insistence on Meet the Press yesterday that the Obama administration was engaged in a “massive coverup” of Benghazi! is an indication that conspiracy-shouting on the subject among Republicans won’t go away any time soon, or perhaps ever.

Now maybe I’m wrong, but it seems any line of inquiry about a past event that consists solely of questions rather than any specific allegations or even suspicions is designed to be eternal. All the semi-legitimate concerns about what happened and why should have been resolved by the State Department’s December report. Does it explain every utterance about the event by administration figures? No, because they really just don’t matter except in terms of some master narrative of Obama knowing the War on Terror is a more urgent priority than ever and deliberately hiding the evidence because he’s soft on Muslims or hates Israel or something.

Perhaps this is just McCain being an angry old guy who can’t let go of anything; he is, after all, about to vote against Chuck Hagel’s confirmation for Secretary of Defense because Hagel won’t admit he was wrong about McCain’s precious Iraq “surge.” But it also illustrates how fiercely today’s Republicans will hold onto any topic that leads into the soggy turf of vague but infamous fears about the 44th president.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 18, 2013

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Completely Unhinged”: John McCain Is Lost In A Fog Of Partisan Rage

Looking back at the tragic and deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last fall, we know quite a bit about what happened. We also know, thanks to an independent investigation, that “Republican charges of a cover-up” were “pure fiction.”

But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued yesterday, he can’t be bothered with facts — he has a partisan vendetta to pursue.

For those who can’t watch clips online, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory pressed the Republican senator on the unsubstantiated charge that the Obama administration has engaged in a “massive cover-up.” Gregory asked a simple question: “A cover-up of what?”

McCain, just a few days after explaining how important it is not to be “disagreeable,” became unusually belligerent, asking the host whether he cares about the deaths of four Americans.

Gregory tried to get an answer anyway, responding, “You said there is a cover-up. A cover-up of what?” McCain, unable to think of anything substantive, said, “Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans.”

Even for McCain, whose capacity has deteriorated sharply in recent years, this was a pathetic display.

Remember, McCain has had several months to think about this. He’s sat through classified and unclassified briefings. He’s participated in a series of congressional hearings. He’s (presumably) read the results of independent investigations, and had his own questions answered, verbally and in writing.

And yet after all of this, McCain is not only ignorant of the basics, he doesn’t understand his own conspiracy theory. The senator, after pondering the issue since September, still believes there’s an elaborate “cover-up,” but doesn’t know why he thinks this.

The exchange on “Meet the Press” wasn’t awkward; it wasn’t bizarre; it was alarming.

This was the point at which it might have dawned on everyone watching, including journalists who still consider the senator credible on foreign policy and national security, “Good lord, John McCain has no idea what he’s talking about.”

I hate to be a stickler for such things, but as a rule, when the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee accuses the White House on national television of orchestrating a cover-up as part of a terrorist attack, it’s not too much to ask that the senator have some idea what he’s talking about.

But in this case, McCain is simply lost in a fog of his own partisan rage. At this point, the man doesn’t understand what he doesn’t understand, and worse, he just doesn’t care. McCain no longer thinks it matters that he can’t back up his accusations; he simply wants to keep making them. And if you press him for details he should understand, the increasingly unhinged senator will suggest you’re indifferent to the deaths of Americans at terrorists’ hands.

Why? Because he’s John McCain.

Incidentally, this was McCain’s fourth Sunday show appearance of the new year — that’s four appearances in seven weeks — which suggests he’ll have another opportunity to answer similar questions in a national setting very soon.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | John McCain | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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