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Reading the New York Times

April 13, 2010

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.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Angelo Herndon permalink
    April 14, 2010 12:44 pm

    There is a reason why the term “realpolitik” exists. Although you are right in your assessment of the real tangible results of different foreign policies, this article seems to refer to the rhetoric that goes with it. But this rhetoric is important. Woodrow Wilson entered an imperialist war even while repeating that it was for “self-determination.” Similar with FDR. Carter also talked about “human rights” even while backing thugs in Indonesia. But realpolitik is when the president doesn’t even feel the need to justify US interventions along humanist lines, as with the cold war when the threat of the USSSR and its supposed satellites-in-the-making to the US was supposed to justify anything. In a way, Bush with his christian backers had to make moral claims for his militarism whereas Obama is probably under less pressure to do so. Although both of their actions are equally fucked up, its easier and better to protest a war on moral grounds than it is on the grounds of defending “national interests”, because there really is an argument to be made that these current wars DO defend the national interest – if you define that interest as maintaining the status quo, maintaining “the american way of life” (of the upper classes of course), etc.

  2. April 15, 2010 3:31 pm

    Thanks for the response Angelo. You make some good points – especially the one that Bush was playing up human rights for this Christian base – definitely.

    I don’t doubt there are actually varying rhetorical approaches used by different Presidents and even that this rhetoric may even make some real difference in reality, but my major problem with this article and pretty much every other one in the liberal media on foreign policy is that they act as if the rhetoric and reality are not two differents things. The author here assumes that just because an adminstration presents its foreign policy in a certain way that it actually believes what it saying/presenting. I think that’s a joke, which I’m sure you agree, because at the end of the day, Obama’s admin like all the others will do what they want.

    And what’s also disturbing is that when NYT liberal readers read this stuff (these sorts of false comparisons) they think that US foreign policy is something other than what it really is – the US’s right to do what it wants. I doubt they can seperate the rhetoric from reality any more than Baker – or at least with a democratic president.

    Perhaps on the rhetorical level, as you allude to and also Baker, it is interesting the good ole liberal Obama is more Kissingerian than Bush. Even then, I still think he’d be just as happy to pull out the bullshit human rights card when he needs it, regardless of what tone they’re setting now.

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