Reading the New York Times
Let’s do a quick exercise in ideology with my favorite “liberal” media source, The New York Times. A lead article on the NYT website, entitled “Obama Puts His Own Mark on Foreign Policy Issues,” by Peter Baker, has this stunning lead-in:
If an Obama doctrine is emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused more on relations with world powers than on human rights and democracy.
Now what exactly the Obama doctrine is, was or is going to be doesn’t particularly interest me (we’ll come back to this in a second), so whether or not Baker’s assertion is true or not is not what’s really important here. What is amazing is how he bifurcates presidents who deal in “realpolitik” versus “human rights/democracy”.
First, why are these two paths mutually exclusive? If you have a realistic or pragmatic approach on how to deal with other nations in the venue of foreign policy than you don’t and/or can’t care about “democracy” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to be)? Second, it goes without saying that Baker is working upon Western conceptions of what human rights and democracy actually are (trust that it doesn’t include economic rights) and believes these are ultimately positive entities. Third, who were the former presidents who fought for human rights and democracy from whom Obama is supposedly departing? And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking – is he actually referring to the Bush adminstration? No way…it’s almost too scary to think that is possible. Obama is the pragmatic realpolitiker and Bush was the rosy human rights idealist?
In the end, semantic ploys like Bush doctrine and Obama doctrine are of course ultimately meaningless drivel (like articles about them), because all US presidents have one doctrine in common: US exceptionalism – the US will do what it wants, when it wants, regardless of cute notions like international and world opinion. Everything else around them – be it missile treaties or talking on the phone with abusive dictators in Central Asia (see the rest of the article) is just window dressing.
Some may accuse me of being nitpicky here or getting a little too upset about a simple blurb, but read enough of these things and you start to believe them. Or even worse, you don’t realize how these news items structure your understanding about the political universe around you. So be careful when reading the NYT – it may just poison your mind.