Leon Wieseltier: More Reasons To Be Skeptical Of Barack Obama And His Legions Of The Blissful

Roundup: Media's Take

[Leon Wieseltier is the Washington Diarist for TNR.]

... One of the striking features of Obama's victory speeches is the absence from these exultations of any lasting allusion to the darker dimensions of our strategic predicament. He makes no applause line out of American defense. And jihadist terrorism is only one of the disorders in an increasingly disordered world. The most repercussive fact of our time is surely the transformation of China. The "metrics" are all staggering. Quantities, quantities, quantities. China already has the power to wreck the American economy. However many tanks and fighters it has, its hoarding of American dollars is itself a kind of arsenal. And the bounty of wealth that it promises American business, the fantasy of greed-fulfillment that it represents, makes it almost impossible to conduct a serious discussion of the implications of this emerging world power for American principles and American interests--certainly not in Washington, where, when it comes to the art of dodging debate, Beijing is better than Bandar. What China wants, China gets. Not even the gold medal in tyranny that Beijing will win in its Olympics will make a difference. Meanwhile the authoritarian Putin has punkishly succeeded in restoring Russia to its inglorious heritage, reminding the world of the old formula that capitalism plus state power equals fascism. In Iran, none of Ahmadinejad's domestic troubles seem to have modified the state's sense of ascendancy, or its will to nuclearize itself, or its appetite for instability in its region. In Iraq, the streets are safer but the sects are not sweeter. In the Korean peninsula, diplomacy has gone ominously cold. In Palestine there are two Palestines, and one of them belongs to Hamas. In Darfur--well, you know, because everybody knows. In Latin America, the failures of liberal economics have sullied the reputation of liberal politics. And so on.

All this even before we attend to the elimination of poverty. And into this unirenic environment strides Obama, pledging to extract us promptly from Iraq and to negotiate with our enemies. What is the role of a conciliator in an unconciliating world?...

"False hopes?" Obama told a crowd in New Hampshire. "There's no such thing." How dare he? There is almost no more commonplace trait of human existence (and of African American existence) than false hopes. I want universal health care, but I do not want to be relieved of the little that I have understood, and learned to accept, about the recalcitrance of the world. After Bush, who is not for a fresh start? But there is something unfresh about Obama's movement for freshness. We have been this young before. "She starts old, old," Lawrence wrote, in his discussion of the Leatherstocking Tales, "wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing off of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America." So can we agree on a ground between cynicism and myth? Or must we have Camelot once more? After all, being young again is also a way of living in the past. There was something mildly farcical about the Kennedys' endorsement of Obama-of this candidacy that is alleged to signify an alternative to the dynasties, and a break with ideological antiquity; but worst of all was its brazen delight in mythologization. (Thanks to the Obama campaign, millions of Americans now hold that John Kennedy was a great president and that Lyndon Johnson was not responsible for making civil rights and voting rights into law.) I understand that no one, except perhaps Lincoln, ever ran for the presidency on a tragic sense of life; but if it is possible to be too old in spirit, it is possible also to be too young.

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Raul A Garcia - 6/15/2008

What I glean from this historical period is the failure of the intelligence agency then to properly advise Kennedy that this plan to invade Cuba would probably not work unless heavily supported by the U.S. military forces. There are great "holes" in information about national security from one administration to another. Both Kennedy and the present Bush lacked military experience in large operations respectively. Both received poor information and intelligence or the CIA apparatus did not act appropriately in both cases (Bay of Pigs, Iraq). I do disagree with Mr. Shcherban's description of the Bay of Pigs participants as terrorists. The comprised a good cross-section of Cuban society in exile and fought bravely against a numerically superior enemy. This is borne out by impartial studies on the event, apart from the question of whether this was a right or wrong decision by the U.S. and Kennedy.

Arnold Shcherban - 2/22/2008

...you, on the other hand, is beyond
any help.

Joseph Mutik - 2/22/2008

Dr Seuss it's a good beginning for you.

Stephen Kislock - 2/22/2008

Read "operation Northwoods"!

Senator Obama, I believe will have a Fair and Balanced foreign policy and this will not be tolerated by the Israeli lobby!

This is the fear I read in some of these post.

Am I wrong?

Arnold Shcherban - 2/19/2008

It should be brain-washed, not "brain washed", and as far as I know it is Putin who is now considered to be (by Republicans and Democrats alike) a red fascist, not me.

Clinton is your hero, because... he would be getting oral stimulation in the White House "openly"(?!), what immoral JFK did behind closed doors (?!)
You certainly strive to apply the highest standards to judgement pronouncements on American Presidents...
And what if "red fascist" reminds you how your hero ordered to bomb civilian installations in Belgrad with hundreds of Serbians killed, plus flied Islamic terrorists to Bosnia to
do the same, plus lied about Serbian genocide against Kosovo Albanians, plus established regime in Kosovo controlled by Albanian terrorists and mafia, who days ago declared their independence, thus illegally cutting off the piece of Serbian historical territory, the act voted down by the UN with 15 vs.5 count.

Joseph Mutik - 2/19/2008

First of all for what we envy him but are afraid to say it loudly, having his oral stimulation in the White House (Clinton had it publicly not like JFK behind closed doors) and last but not least, his great intellect.
Suppose nothing, you brain washed red fascist, I believe Reagan was a clown and baby Bush a sorry idiot.

Joseph Mutik - 2/19/2008

A very good and well documented book.

Jules R. Benjamin - 2/18/2008

Kennedy did not overule the military on the Bay of Pigs. The JCS (with one exception) did not think the plan would work. It was the CIA that promoted the plan. To hide the U.S. hand, the CIA reduced the firepower and overt participation of the original mini-invasion. This smaller version, depending on Cuban exiles, needed to be bailed out at the last minute by airstrikes. It was these and not the plan itslef that Kennedy aborted. My guess is that if the invasion had "worked," it would have "worked" in the sense that our invasion of Iraq has "worked."

Arnold Shcherban - 2/18/2008

"The unfortunate" assasination of American president?
Not a criminal and terrible?
Are you a fan of political assasinations, Mr. Nutik... if the victims are not up to your ideological and political aspirations?
I strongly suspect that if one of your heroes, Reagan or Bush were assasinated you would scream "Horrific Murder!"
as raving lunatic.
Are you one-way (ideological) terrorist?

You mourn the failure of Bay of Pigs terrorist operation against the tiny country that did not attack yours and was even less threat to it (before the invasion in Bay of Pigs) than non-existed Iraq threat, as if it was the response to something like 9/11 horrors.

You're right (no pun intended) in one thing only: that invasion, but not its failure, (that was predetermined by the absence of the US major air bombing campaign and participation of the US Army) really was the main precursor to Cuban missile crisis.
It was also one of the most pure demonstrations of the US-sponsored and
organized terrorism against sovereign country.
But in your imperialistic convoluted logic, the victims of the US-sponsored agressions have no right to seek protection from further immediate and imminent threats coming
from the military superpower whose leaders devoted itself to the campaign of terror and military attacks thrown at those victims, not already mentioning such "trifles" as the most severe economic sanctions and political isolation in contemporary peaceful history.

JFK was as much of a criminal, as GBB, but much smarter than the latter one. And therefore, he wouldn't completely loose his mind to face international outrage (including the strong questions from many allies) undoubtedly caused by the open violation of the most fundamental principles of international coexistence - direct military attack on the island of Cuba; instead, he and CIA, being lured by anti-Castro "experts" into a mistaken exercise of wishful thinking that Castro's regime had little popular support on Cuba, decided to act through Cuban terrorists (then called
freedom fighters; spilling little blood, so say) based in Florida.
The rest is history.
And therefore,... JFK was one of the worst Presidents in the US history.

Cary Fraser - 2/18/2008

McCain may or may not have a strategic vision, but it will be difficult to see how he can bring his party or a majority of the country along withhis vision. Frank Rich's column in yesterday's NYT provided some interesting insights into the anachronisms that inform Republican party politics. Whatever may be his reason for supporting Bush's 'surge' - it will be interesting to see him make the argument to raise taxes, and for redirecting budget priorities, in order to finance the rebuilding of the US military after Iraq. As the sub-prime mortgage mess has shown, failure is not a bankable proposition.

Joseph Mutik - 2/17/2008

The unfortunate assassination of JFK, in 1963, transformed him into an undeserved mythological figure. JFK is the guy who's only military experience was commanding a PT boat but had the audacity to change the plans, made by experienced generals, changes that resulted in the bay of pigs fiasco. This is one of the reasons that for the Cuban missile crisis. The list is quite long, for a short presidency, but Americans prefer to admire Jacqueline's dresses (paid by papa Kennedy).
Though Obama got into Harvard on his own merit, he has some skeletons in his closet, one of the skeletons being his racist mentor, pastor Wright. I believe that in a presidential race between McCain and Obama, McCain will win. Hillary has a better chance because her sins are out of the closet for a long time and we are used to them.

Gary Ostrower - 2/15/2008

Good observation, Cary Fraser, but we might well see a strategic vision in relationship to foreign policy without a domestic equivalent. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening is slim. If we historians have learned anything, it is that we learn much more from our catastrophes than our successes or even our garden-variety failures.
In respect to foreign policy, we have just endured a train wreck. Domestically, it will likely be years before we can assess the damage we are doing to ourselves (I know: it's possible that a $9 trillion debt may not give us the luxury of years).
In any case, our dependence on foreign oil is not going to disappear in the next few decades, and we therefore have little choice but to develop that strategic vision, even if it is a McCain administration that initiates the process.

Cary Fraser - 2/15/2008

The real strategic predicament that the US faces arises out of the failure of the Executive and Legislative branches to think through the decision to authorize military action against Iraq. It revealed the intellectual vacuum at the heart of the American government. Obama's hope may be that a Presidency based upon a coalition that transcends partisan loyalties, and generations, may be a way to halt the rise of cynicism and disarray that has overtaken American politics. If there is no strategic vision about American domestic politics after Bush, can there be one for foreign policy?