2010/04/21

Perceptions of strength/weakness

Daily Kos, in their daily Pundit Round-up, reprinted a bit of Thomas Friedman's column today:

Thomas Friedman:
Have no illusions, the rest of the world was watching our health care debate very closely, waiting to see who would be the strong horse — Obama or his Democratic and Republican health care opponents? At every turn in the debate, America’s enemies and rivals were gauging what the outcome might mean for their own ability to push around an untested U.S. president.
It remains to be seen whether, in the long run, America will be made physically healthier by the bill’s passage. But, in the short run, Obama definitely was made geopolitically healthier.
The site responded:


That's very funny, because it's exactly how pundits react. It's why Bush got a pass for so many years from the Heathers in the press. Friedman was no exception.

My own response to Friedman's column was:

Re: "Everybody Loves a Winner" Apr 21

Many years ago, I attempted to test the prevailing assumption I found among the right wing that certain nations were either strong or weak in their pursuit of military objectives (The theory had already taken a big hit when the Jewish people, historically considered weak because they had no state of their own, suddenly became perceived as strong when they prevailed over their Arab neighbors) and looked at France's withdrawal from the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 and again at France's performance in World War I, specifically during the battle of Verdun in 1916. In 1859, after the French-assisted victory at Solferino, Napoleon III surveyed the battlefield, became sickened by the carnage and withdrew his forces short of final victory over the Austrian occupiers of Italy. In 1916, Frenchmen stood firm against the German assault and ultimately prevailed and joined the final Allied push against the Germans in 1918.
What was the difference? Very simply, the goals. In the first instance, Napoleon III was simply interested in glory and empire-building. In the second, France was fighting for survival itself.
To think that one can learn something meaningful about how President Obama will handle foreign crises by observing how he deals with Republicans strikes me as a typically right-wing perspective. That's like saying that the US was perceived as weak in 1975 because it got booted out of Vietnam. Nonsense! Perceptions of US power were unaltered by the Vietnam debacle because political leaders around the world are not, by and large, idiots. Political leaders are, as a group, generally smart enough to realize that how hard a nation fights for a goal has absolutely everything to do with how important that goal is.

Update: Poor Friedman simply has no clue. The guy babbles on about a "Green Tea Party" as though the teabaggers could possibly care less about the environment.

Digby:

One more time, with feeling. They are not populists and they are not libertarians. They are what is known as the far right. And their organizing principle is hatred of liberalism (and those it serves) and government when it is in the hands of the Democratic Party. That's all there is to it.
Balloon juice:
And those crowds of angry white old people screaming “keep government out of my medicare” and waving signs of “Drill, baby, drill?” They sure as hell don’t care about the environment and are not going to become some sort of “Green Tea Party.”
Friedman then babbles on about the "radical center" and how Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) are cooperating on energy legislation, but Graham has (Quite sensibly, if you look at it from a purely tactical perspective) declared that he's willing to toss out months of work if he doesn't get his way on the bill. Look for lots of liberal cave-ins and concessions and hand-wringing about how if we don't give Graham everything he wants, he'll walk.

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