Thursday, October 1, 2015

Foreign Policy and Baboon Ethology

Here is a little essay that explains a lot about how certain conservatives see the world:
The sound you’d be hearing this morning if you live in the devastated city of Homs in Syria, would be Russian jets doing bombing runs against your neighbors rebelling against dictator Bashar al-Assad. And not just in Homs. The roar of those Russian jets is being heard around the world; it’s the sound of Vladimir Putin becoming the new alpha male and power broker of the Middle East.

Our president, meanwhile, is letting it all happen. If Vladimir Putin is the dominant alpha male in the new international pecking order, Barack Obama has emerged as his highly submissive partner. There are various reasons why we are being subjected to the humiliating spectacle of an American president, so-called leader of the free world, rolling over on the mat at Putin’s feet. . . .

Of course, there have been signs for years that Obama is prone to submitting to males who act dominantly in his presence. Who can forget his frozen performance with Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate in 2012....We’ve seen it in his interactions with China’s president Xi Jinping; his strange bowing and scraping with the Saudi king; and his various meetings with Putin, including the last at the United Nations on Monday where a tight-lipped Obama could barely bring himself to look at the Russian president while Putin looked cool and confident—as well as he should.

For every aggressive move Putin has made on the international stage, first in Crimea and Ukraine in Europe, and now in Syria, our president’s response has been largely verbal protestations followed by resolute inaction. Why should Putin not assume that when he orders the U.S. to stop its own air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and to leave the skies to the Russians, he won’t be obeyed?
The world view on display in this piece, and thousands like it, is the world view of an ambitious baboon. In the average baboon troop, the dominant animals are the ones who make the most noise and respond to any challenge with a display if fangs and, if necessary, a sharp bite or two. People like Arthur Herman, the author of the essay excerpted above, think human society should be just like that. They want the American president to be the loudest talker on the planet, and for him to respond to all provocations with a barrage of cruise missiles and, if necessary, an invasion. It galls them that anyone can insult or demean America and get away with it. What is the point of being the only great power if we let lesser powers mock us?

Our foreign policy is never belligerent for these people; we are never bombing enough, invading enough, talking enough smack. Their goal is to make everyone in the world "respect" us, by which they mean bow and scrape like low-ranking baboons confronted by an alpha male in a rage. They are constantly disappointed with all of our leaders, even Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, for not doing enough to assert our dominance on the planet.

But Obama drives them particularly crazy. Obama hates shouting and angry conflict, wants all international disputes to be settled by diplomacy and all domestic disputes to be worked out behind closed doors. He is so cool, so unruffled no matter what is thrown at him; and how dare he defeat the obviously so much more alpha John McCain and Mitt Romney? How dare he cut a deal with Iranian mullahs who delight in calling us the spawn of Satan?

I have always found it amusing when conservatives talk about how submissively Obama acted toward the Saudi king. This isn't even true and, it ignores that in matters of substance Obama has defied the Saudis time and again, most importantly in making the nuclear deal with Iran over their violent objections. Who was bowing and scraping to Saudi interests then?

I also find the contrast with Vladimir Putin telling, but in an opposite way. Yes, Putin is a better alpha baboon, very skilled at looking tough and impressing lesser baboons like Arthur Herman. But who is actually achieving his goals? Certainly not Putin, whose initiatives have failed left and right -- most of Ukraine is still dominated by his enemies, whose hold on power was only increased by Putin's clumsy intervention. His attempt to isolate Ukraine has only isolated Russia, and his attempt to wean himself of the need to trade with Europe by strengthening ties with China has come to very little. His little intervention in Syria only underscores how few planes he has, and how little impact he can afford to have on Middle Eastern events.

Obama's enemies don't just dislike him, they despise him. They think he is weak and foolish and too vain to know how weak he seems to others. Maybe it is true, as Arthur Herman and his ilk say, that Obama's passive demeanor encourages his enemies to set him at naught. But those enemies are wrong, as Obama has shown again and again.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Such commenters may be wrong, but they also don't care. Evidence and reasoning don't work on baboons like them - they only respond to violence and naked aggression.

They're too dim, too irrational and unthinking, to realize that the behaviors they champion are entirely counter productive towards achieving our goals; and worse still, hypocritically identical to the behavior our political rivals whom they so passionately decry.

I would call these people modern day Tribalists, obsessively concerned with their own clan's pecking order and eternal struggles with other clans, but I wonder if perhaps that is unfair to many actual tribal peoples.