Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jamie Kirchick: put down the thesaurus, buy a dictionary

Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic has a typically asinine column in The Los Angeles Times today blasting President Obama for being insufficiently jingoistic and arrogant during his recent European tour. Unfortunately, there are a few glaring errors in the piece -- beyond the fact that it is premised on the inside-the-Beltway bullshit notion that rhetoric on foreign affairs is more important than actual policy -- that undermine his case.

For starters: "apologetics" is not the plural form of "apology", but rather a term meaning a formal argument in defense of a belief, typically concerning theology. Thus, saying "Obama waited to ramp up the apologetics until his first trip overseas" implies he waited until he was in Europe before launching into a detailed defense of the Trinity and transsubstanation.

Furthermore: Kirchick claims "the use of the atomic bomb in ending the war with Japan saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and America's possession of nuclear weapons prevented the Cold War from becoming bloodier." Of course, dropping nuclear weapons on Japan -- twice -- was a political decision made by President Truman intended primarily to scare the Soviet Union, as Japanese leaders had already sought to surrender. Hypotheticals about lives saved do not negate the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were intentionally killed by the U.S. military. And as that committed pacificist, Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarked to Newsweek, the war with Japan was nearly over at the time the bombs were dropped, and "it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.''

Finally: Kirchick trashes Obama for not defending the concept of "American exceptionalism" with enough vigor, his bombing of a sovereign, nuclear-armed ally apparently not being indication enough of the exceptional status he believes the U.S. enjoys on the world scene. To Kirchick's dismay, Obama apparently chose diplomacy over arrogance during his European tour, telling other countries that, yes, you too can be exceptional! But that's "impossible," writes Kirchick:
If all countries are "exceptional," then none are, and to claim otherwise robs the word, and the idea of American exceptionalism, of any meaning. Besides, American exceptionalism is demonstrable -- Cuban journalists, Chinese political dissidents, Eastern Europeans once again living in the shadow of a belligerent Russia and, yes, even some Brits and Greeks look toward the U.S. and nowhere else to defend freedom.
It's unclear to what extent Mr. Kirchick has traveled the globe and spoke to its several billion inhabitants, but a few anecdotes about certain select peoples officially recognized as Oppressed by the State Department supposedly looking to the "U.S. and nowhere else to defend freedom" demonstrates precisely nothing. For every Cuban journalist looking to the US to defend their freedom one can point to a thousand Vietnamese civilians burned to death liberated by American military might, for example. It's also much more likely the vast majority of the world's people who seek freedom do not hinge their hopes on the benevolence of a foreign power thousands of miles from their home with a dubious commitment to liberty itself, but in fact look to themselves and their compatriots to fight for their rights.

To Kirchick and his neoliberal/neoconservative brethren, however, if a dictator falls and a CIA agent wasn't there to see it, then it never really happened. In their view, the United States government is the last best hope of man and really is god's gift to the world. An exaggeration? Hardly. Consider Kirchick's own definition of American exceptionalism.
This is the notion that our history as the world's oldest democracy, our immigrant founding and our devotion to liberty endow the United States with a unique, providential role in world affairs.
Skipping past the fact that the United States is not "the world's oldest democracy" -- women only gained the right to vote here in the 1920s, for one -- rather telling is Kirchick's use of the word "providential" to describe the U.S. role in the world; that is, his apparent belief that the U.S. government is "of, pertaining to, or resulting from divine providence." If anyone's guilty of engaging in "apologetics," it's Kirchick.


  1. Jaylin4dc1:17 PM

    Good use of strike out text.

  2. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Well said. Good to see the proper use of 'pacificist.'