Wanker of the Day: Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen may be showing early signs of senility. But at least he is showing some of his core beliefs. For Cohen, policy is unimportant. What matters is whether the rest of the world bows down to American hegemony, right or wrong. Should the Palestinian Authority come to some unity arrangement with Hamas? Not if Congress threatens to cut off their funding as a result. Does the administration have the right policy towards Egypt? Well, if so, why is Egypt threatening to prosecute 19 Americans. Is our embassy in Baghdad needlessly big and offensive to Iraqi sensibilities? How dare we downsize it? What should we do about Syria? All that matters is that Russia and China aren’t playing ball. Is our Iran policy working? All that matters is that Russia and China aren’t playing ball. We’re weak because Pakistan is complicated. Did we do the right thing in Libya? No, because we didn’t do it all by ourselves. Should Israel stop building in the Occupied Territories? All that matters is that Netanyahu gave us the shrug-off.

Cohen’s premise is that all of these things demonstrate that America is in decline, which would seem to be something beyond a president’s control. Yet, the column is constructed as a rebuke of the president and his policies. No thought is given to the president’s many accomplishments. Vladimir Putin is cast as opposing us on every front, but no mention is made of the New StART treaty or Russia’s reluctant cooperation in our Libyan intervention. No credit is given for the way the administration managed to pull Europe, the Arab League, and the United Nations together to authorize our actions in Libya. No credit is given for how the administration got Europe to impose oil sanctions on Iran. No kudos are on offer for the end of the war in Iraq. No mention is made of Obama’s willingness to ignore Pakistan’s sovereignty to go get bin-Laden and kill most of al-Qaeda’s leadership. Cohen obviously doesn’t think our free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama constitute foreign policy successes. What about this observation from Fareed Zakaria:

If the war against al Qaeda is the most visible and dramatic success story, the most significant long-term success might be in Asia, where Obama has pivoted. Asia is the new arena of global wealth, power, and power politics, and Obama decided to expand American presence in the region with a flurry of diplomatic moves over the last six months.

He did so carefully and skillfully so that Asia countries saw it as a response to their requests rather than an unilateral assertion of American power. When historians write about an Obama Doctrine, they might point to his new Asian strategy – his declaration that America is a “Pacific Power” that is here to stay.

I guess our new US Marine Task Force in Australia isn’t a projection of power.

America is plenty powerful. We’ll know that we’re in decline when the people of our country force our political elites to vastly scale back our foreign commitments and reduce of military capabilities. And that won’t happen until we are in severe economic pain. The Great Recession obviously wash’t enough.

Personally, I don’t agree with many of the ways Obama has projected US strength in the world. I think we’re over-committed and we’re not drawing back quickly enough. I support a robust lead-role for America in maintaining the international system of collective security, but I want us to intelligently and gradually work to pass off more of the responsibilities for peacekeeping, humanitarian work, and even military intervention. We need to encourage allies to devote more resources to developing capabilities for this type of work, even though it would represent less freedom of action in US foreign policy. I view it like teaching a toddler to ride a bike. In 1945, the world wasn’t ready to police itself or to use a system of collective security to avoid warfare and crimes against humanity. Today, the world doesn’t need us to spot them anymore. We built the post-war system to make the world safe in a nuclear age. We shouldn’t pervert its purpose so that it only serves to perpetuate our hegemony. My progressive vision for U.S. foreign policy is that we commit to making the UN stronger than ever, and ever-less reliant on our resources and leadership. I don’t see this as a decline, but as the fulfillment of our mission.

29 comments for “Wanker of the Day: Richard Cohen

  1. February 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    How about a comment on a topic other than your untoward ideological deviationism in saying that the United States is not an unmitigated evil, but has actually has something to offer the world?

    I think we’re over-committed and we’re not drawing back quickly enough. I support a robust lead-role for America in maintaining the international system of collective security, but I want us to intelligently and gradually work to pass off more of the responsibilities for peacekeeping, humanitarian work, and even military intervention.

    Obama is really the first President to demonstrate any interest in this vision, so he’s trying turn around an aircraft carrier.  Let’s not forget that Bush’s Iraq War was intended to allow us to establish a new location for basing our military assets to project power in the MENA region.  Remember all of those confident assertions about why we’d never withdraw from Iraq?  Those people, while they turned out to be wrong, had a point.  We really did pour billions of dollars into building bases there.  The military and the more hawkish elements in our government were deeply committed to making Iraq central to our power projection.  The abandonment of this vision is a BFD, the equivalent of withdrawing our forces from West Germany or Japan in the 1980s.

    In addition to this, he has also put on ice the global missile defense program, canceling the bases in Eastern Europe.  Add to this our refusal to lift a finger to help longtime clients like the dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen when they were challenged by a bunch of DFHs, and it adds up to a major departure not just from George W. Bush, but from more than a century of American foreign policy orientation.

    Cohen is half right; we’re not going out looking to start fights and bring new areas under our domination like we used to.  Where he errs is in thinking that this change is either a result of weakness, or a cause of it.

  2. February 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    always want to do “something”.  This something is usually ill defined. Doing something about Iran, for example.  So Cohen says that the world is thumbing their nose at us, and says this:

    But a limited America still has unlimited possibilities and solemn responsibilities. If not America, then who? Then nobody.

    I have absolutely no idea what these means.  “Unlimited possibilities and solemn responsibilities”.

    What the fuck does that mean?  What policies should be followed that are not currently being followed?

    He wants Obama to do something.  Not what he is doing now, but something.  He doesn’t say what this something is – because I doubt he knows.

    The article is really quite incoherent.

  3. February 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    The US dominated post WW2 world order has a lot to be said for it. At the very least it has prevented a WW3 and the routine clash of competing empires and reduced the crass colonialism that came with them. What wars there were were kept well away from the US and European heartlands even if they were spawned by attempts at further US domination in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq or fuelled by the “free” arms trade which led to millions more deaths in Africa. It has also helped facilitate unprecedented world growth even if it has failed to address the key issues of climate change, over population, resource depletion, and crass inequality of resources.

    But like many good things, it has also come at a price: Overweening US arrogance, a likely Israeli initiated Nuclear war in the mid-East, and a global corporate erosion of democracy world-wide. I’m surprised you laud the Libyan intervention as an Obama accomplishment having criticised his role in it, but there is no doubt that Obama is a damn sight better than his predecessor.  Unfortunately the pronouncements of GOP Presidential candidate – which have real consequences outside the US – serve only to illustrate how perilous the US hold on sanity really is.

    Someone like Cohen is well capable of destroying all he claims to applaud.

  4. February 14, 2012 at 11:51 am

    OK, yours is the progressive vision of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

    Mine is that of William Jennings Bryan and Robert M. La Follette.

    The “rise to globalism” was a mistake beginning with Spanish-American War, though it was only to be expected after the will to power had driven us across the entire continent, to the purchase of Seward’s Icebox, and then most recently halfway across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands.

    It has never brought us anything but enormous loss of blood and treasure – and enormous vainglory to warm the hearts not only of our globe-bestriding leaders but likely of the majority of the American people.

  5. February 14, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I view it like teaching a toddler to ride a bike.

    I didn’t think you were being nearly patronizing enough. Then you said this.

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