By Jeff Rutherford
On August 8th, opinion journalist Tom Friedman interviewed President Obama for an hour about world affairs and U.S. foreign policy. A phrase from that interview jumped out at me which I’d like to analyze here.
To begin, here’s a short excerpt from Friedman’s own Op-Ed piece in the NY Times about the interview:
“Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished. The United States is not going to be the air force of Iraqi Shiites or any other faction.”
“No victor / no vanquished.” Hmmm….
Granted, those are Friedman’s words, not the President’s. This opens the door for Obama to distance himself from this phrase if he wishes. (More on that in my conclusion.) But I gathered some quotes from the video interview that allow us to judge for ourselves if Friedman was putting unwelcome words in Obama’s mouth.
You can view the entire hour of the stylishly-produced interview here. To my eyes and ears, the always-bobbleheading Friedman isn’t so much interviewing the President as he is mentally spooning with him.
At 29:20, Obama says:
“You can lead folks to water. They’ve got to drink. And so far at least they haven’t been willing to, in part because the politics in their societies are working in opposite directions.”
A minute later at 30:18, Friedman says:
“It goes back to what you said where, if you look at the Middle East, all the successful political arrangements always were ‘no victor / no vanquished’ – ultimately.”
To which a vigorously nodding Obama immediately says,
“That’s exactly right – and right now, you don’t see that dynamic.”
Holy cow, what an understatement.
For perspective, I will now consult Dr. Thomas Sowell’s 1987 book, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, where he described the difference between the left’s and the right’s vision of power, force, violence, and war. As I’ve summarized in another article recently (“Groping for Utopia”), Sowell’s thesis is that the unconstrained vision (of the political left) sees man as inherently good and perfectible, and hindered only by difficult circumstances; while the constrained vision (of the political right) sees man as inherently flawed and forever prone to violating each other’s natural rights and liberty. Regarding war, on pages 157-159 of the 2007 revised edition, Sowell writes:
“…[T]hose with the unconstrained vision tend to explain the existence and recurrence of [war]…in terms of either misunderstandings in an intellectual sense, or of hostile or paranoid emotions raised to such a pitch as to override rationality. In short, war results from a failure of understanding, whether caused by lack of forethought, lack of communication, or emotions overriding judgment. Steps for a peace-seeking nation to take to reduce the probability of war therefore include:
(1) more influence for the intellectually or morally more advanced portions of the population,
(2) better communications between potential enemies,
(3) a muting of militant rhetoric,
(4) a restraint on armament production or military alliances, either of which might produce escalating counter-measures,
(5) a de-emphasis of nationalism or patriotism, and
(6) negotiating outstanding differences with potential adversaries as a means of reducing possible causes of war.”
Sounds like a summary of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and the complicit liberal media’s strategy for covering it, doesn’t it?
“Those with the constrained vision see war in entirely different terms. According to this vision, wars are a perfectly rational activity from the standpoint of those who anticipate gain to themselves, their class, or their nation, whether or not these anticipations are often mistaken, as all human calculations may be. That their calculations disregard the agonies of others is no surprise to those with the constrained vision of human nature. From this perspective, the steps for a peace-seeking nation to take to reduce the probability of war would be the direct opposite of those… [of the unconstrained vision]:
(1) raising the cost of war to potential aggressors by military preparedness and military alliances,
(2) arousal of the public to awareness of dangers, in time of threat,
(3) promotion of patriotism and willingness to fight, as the cost of deterring attack,
(4) relying on your adversaries’ awareness of your military power more so than on verbal communication,
(5) negotiating only within the context of deterrent strength, and avoiding concessions to blackmail that would encourage further blackmail, and
(6) relying more on the good sense and fortitude of the public at large (reflecting culturally validated experience) than on moralists and intellectuals [who are] more readily swayed by words and fashions.”
Sounds like Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, doesn’t it?
Here is a final point of contrast from Sowell:
”Like other evils, war [is] seen by those with the constrained vision as originating in human nature and as being contained by institutions. To those with the unconstrained vision, war [is] seen as being at variance with human nature and caused by institutions.”
Progressive Naivety on Stilts
I believe Obama’s world view adheres to the unconstrained vision explained by Sowell. Obama’s foreign policy is a naïve utopian dream rooted in Progressivism. Watching the whole interview, I came away very troubled at how much Obama is like a spectator gazing at these tumultuous times, offering wishful and hopeful observations about how Eastern and Middle Eastern societies ought to logically behave.
Going back to the Friedman interview, here’s an example of Obama pushing on a rope. At 53:48, Obama says:
“If you look at the logic at getting a nuclear deal done [with Iran], where they give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons, but still have some capacity for nuclear power, …we can come up with a formula. …And in return, suddenly their economy opens up. …If I’m Iran, I’d be a lot more confident, and [could then] look around and say to myself ‘You know what, in this neighborhood, we could have the strongest economy. We could have the best innovation. We don’t need nuclear weapons. We’d be better off if we could open this thing up, and there’s more trade and exchange of ideas, and all that.’ ”
Mr. President, what if they won’t behave that way? I believe fundamentalist barbarism is the most likely outcome emanating from the Middle East for many decades to come, because an unreformed body of Islamist cultural and religious teachings is fueling it. Against that danger, Mr. President, why do you commit the U.S. to a stance of pacifism and appeasement – rooted in your Progressive wishes and hopes? Is your pushing on a rope the best way to protect America and promote relatively more peace in the world? Or does it simply embolden the Islamic fundamentalists to fill the power vacuum you’ve allowed them to sense?
Friedman’s Epilogue: Clueless
Puzzlingly, three days after the interview – despite his sore neck muscles – Tom Friedman summed up America’s handling of the “Arab Spring” pretty well:
“We thought, starting with Egypt, that the alternative to autocracy was democracy. And it’s turned out the alternative to autocracy in that part of the world has been disorder.”
“If there’s anything we should have learned from Iraq…it’s that we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”
Other commentary about the Friedman interview:
Jonah Goldberg: “Sometimes Someone Has to Lose”
Jeannie DeAngelis: “Obama’s One-sided ‘No victor/No vanquished’ Maximalist Philosophy“
The Last Refuge: “He’s Merely Phoning It In Now”