Victor Davis Hanson and Election 2012

Critics of Barack Obama's foreign policy should engage his actual policies -- not policies that don't actually exist.

Daniel Larison ably dismantles the fabrications, untruths, and distortions in Victor Davis Hanson’s latest column. For that alone, Larison’s post is well worth the read. But the upshot of Hanson’s post is more important:

If Hanson can’t even describe what has been happening without resorting to fabrications and distortions, why should anyone trust his conclusions?

Yes, Hanson is just repeating standard talking points, and he doesn’t seem to be giving any thought to them, and he obviously hasn’t bothered checking many of his claims, but it is because they make up a large part of the standard Republican critique on foreign policy that they matter. This is what a lot of mainstream conservative foreign policy argument has devolved into, and that can’t be healthy for the conservative movement or for the quality of foreign policy debate. This is what a number of prospective 2012 Republican candidates will be saying for the better part of the next two years, and a huge part of it is just ideological make-believe.

I oppose a great deal of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. But what I oppose, I do try to oppose on the basis of what Barack Obama’s actually doing. I share Larison’s concern that a number of Republican politicians oppose policies that don’t actually exist. I get that people disagree about the wisdom of certain policies. But making stuff up and arguing against positions that people don’t actually hold is unwise in the extreme.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    You don’t even need data points to take Hanson apart: his own language choices reveal his complete lack of critical thought. He writes in such a way that you know he’s eliding, sliding, weaseling, sidestepping. And he’s too dim to realize that avoidance is revealing.

    It’s funny sometimes watching political guys who think they can write. No offense to that general class but their language skills aren’t as subtle as they think they are. They end up not so much making a point as revealing a state of mind, a prejudice, an intellectual weakness or a psychological problem. True of right and left, by the way.

    Eventually though they come to realize they’ve exposed themselves.

    Poor Tom Friedman’s been aware of his own utter vacuity for years now, but he has no choice but to keep pushing ahead. Maureen Dowd has accepted that she’d one and now is left with nothing but self-parody. And poor David Brooks is still hunting for his next “bourgeois bohemian,” catch phrase.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    “she’d one” = “she’s done.”

  3. mantis says:

    What does it say for Hanson’s general critique of administration foreign policy that virtually every statement he made at the start of his argument isn’t credible? The only people who can read that passage and take it seriously are those safely inside a cocoon of conservative commentary and news where all of these half-truths and falsehoods circulate freely. The rest of the article isn’t any better.

    Hanson writes for the people inside that cocoon. Nearly the entire right wing in the US is inside that cocoon. They have their own alternate reality, and no amount of facts or rebuttals can penetrate it.

  4. Wiley Stoner says:

    I just read both, and Larison is all opinion where as Hansen presents facts as he sees them. Everybody I know believes the nuke treaty with the Russians favors the Russians. What did they give up? We gave up our shield and information about the British nuke force.
    I offer further proof Hansen is correct and Larison is in error. Notice the first responses are from your most radical communist commenters, the BDS suffering, kool aid drinking, Obama worshipping Reynolds and Mantis the Lame.

  5. ponce says:

    They have their own alternate reality, and no amount of facts or rebuttals can penetrate it.

    The Democrats have been known to construct their own alternate reality when it suits them.

    How many of evil W.’s policies has Obama really changed, for example?

  6. mantis says:

    I just read both, and Larison is all opinion where as Hansen presents facts as he sees them. Everybody I know believes the nuke treaty with the Russians favors the Russians. What did they give up? We gave up our shield and information about the British nuke force.

    You obviously didn’t read both. Did you follow this link in Larison’s post? Did you read and understand it?

    Do you have any specific critiques of Larison’s response? Or just unsupported assertions? Also, Hanson’s “facts as he sees them” are his opinions (or fabrications, as Larison details).

    Maybe you could look back through his previous posts? He mainly writes about foreign policy, and has covered START in detail for a long time.

    I offer further proof Hansen is correct and Larison is in error.

    Your standards for proof are extremely lacking.

  7. mantis says:

    The Democrats have been known to construct their own alternate reality when it suits them.

    This is true, but not to the degree or depth to which the right has.

    How many of evil W.’s policies has Obama really changed, for example?

    First, I wouldn’t characterize President Bush as “evil W.” Second, do you want an exact number, or are you implying that Obama has not changed a great deal of the former administration policies?

  8. reid says:

    Speaking of the conservative bubble, wasn’t the talking point about us giving up British secrets already proven to be bunk? Oh yeah, Larison himself explains it here:

    http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2011/02/09/wikileaks-and-the-non-scandal-regarding-new-start/

    But it was so useful when explaining how Obama hates the US and our allies!

  9. reid says:

    Um, good, fast work there, mantis….

  10. ponce says:

    First, I wouldn’t characterize President Bush as “evil W.” Second, do you want an exact number, or are you implying that Obama has not changed a great deal of the former administration policies?

    Oh, I’m a big fan of Obama’s and he’s got my vote next year, but I don’t think Bush was anywhere near as bad as he was made out to be.

    I’m just tired of the boilerplate alternate realities the party out of power begins to construct the moment an election is over.

    The lameness of the one the Republicans have been constructing since 2008 is proved by how few Americans are buying into it.

  11. PJ says:

    @Alex:

    But making stuff up and arguing against positions that people don’t actually hold is unwise in the extreme.

    It has worked very well this far, so why would they start telling the truth? It’s not like the MSM is going to call them on their lies, and if they do, then that’s just because the MSM is left-wing and biased.

    Death Panels!

  12. sam says:

    @Wiley

    “Everybody I know believes the nuke treaty with the Russians favors the Russians. ”

    @Pauline Kael

    “Nobody I know voted for Nixon>”

  13. matt b says:

    As a side note, whenever someone has the gall to tell me that good, conservative intellectuals don’t exist, Larison is the first person I point them to.

    While I find much objectionable in the weekly screeds posted by the magazine’s founder, Am Con has assembled a really excellent team of *thinkers/bloggers.*

  14. Hey Norm says:

    Death panels
    Birtherism
    Tyrannical Socialist Marxist Fascists
    Apologizing for the US
    Growing up in Kenya
    If it weren’t for lies they’d have no fear too sell…

  15. Steven Plunk says:

    Anyone who believes in Obama’s foreign policy, or lack of, is ignoring the failures, lack of leadership, gaffes, and general inadequacies. The discussion in the press of Obama and Hillary Clinton failing the 3:00 AM test on the MIddle East is not there because it’s made up. It’s going on because it’s the way it is.

    Hanson is miles ahead of those in the peanut gallery heckling away.

  16. matt b says:

    And, in that brilliant bit of analysis, Wiley and Plunk, both demonstrate exactly why they deserve to be ignored.

    When someone is so blinded by/committed to the idea that their side is always right and that the other side is always wrong that they cannot acknowledge reality (such as the fact that Obama has largely continued many Bush era policies, that generally speaking there has been no *real* 3am test for the administration, etc), its no longer possible to have a conversation. What’s worse is that it fundamentally prevents any possibility of a rational or productive discussion (a chance to address the *real* problems in foreign policy).

    What’s really sad (though not unexpected) is that when finally confronted with solid thinking by an impeccable conservative intellectual, they are incapable of recognizing it. (See Jim Manzi for another example)

    It’s one thing to not be particularly smart, but being willfully ignorant (meaning not even considering the possibility that ones view *might note be right*) in order to score points… that’s really just pathetic…

    Or perhaps just Beckian.

  17. reid says:

    matt b: Right on. Another way to put it is that Obama can never do anything right with some people.

    I have no idea what SPlunk is referring to with all of these alleged failures and gaffes. You’d think he’d started a war under false pretenses or something. I guess to some people bowing to a foreign head of state is worse. No, Obama has had a moderate, cautious foreign policy.

  18. MBunge says:

    “I just read both, and Larison is all opinion where as Hansen presents facts as he sees them. Everybody I know believes the nuke treaty with the Russians favors the Russians.”

    Just want to point out that even if everybody you know believes the nuke treaty favors the Russians, that does not mean it actually favors the Russians. The idea that “group belief=fact” is far too common on the Right these days.

    Mike

  19. steve says:

    For those interested, Lt. Col. Johnson published a good piece at SWJ on our relationship with Russia. The reset is going pretty well, but has a ways to go.

    Steve

  20. steve says:
  21. matt b says:

    Just want to point out that even if everybody you know believes the nuke treaty favors the Russians, that does not mean it actually favors the Russians. The idea that “group belief=fact” is far too common on the Right these days.

    To be fair, and this isn’t a false equivalency, ideologues of all stripes are routinely guilty of this.

    The sad part, is that right now, on OTB, it seems to happen more from those commentators “speaking” for conservatives. That said, I also want to point out that there are number of authors and posters here, who are arguing for the Right, who are capable of at the very least *trying* (and succeeding more than some on the left might like to admit) to openly engage.* And considering we all have our blindspots, just trying is a good thing.

    What’s tough is that for quite a while I thought folks like Steve P were trolling (in it for the Lulz)… But I’m becoming ever more convinced that they are serious. Which makes me hope ton some level that they keep posting and blindly arguing as much as possible as that means
    they have less time to engage in real world political action.**

    The other thing it leads me to think about is how this type of “group belief=fact” (often on both sides) is really good at getting us into wars or budget problems and really bad at getting us out (see Wisconsin for it playing out in a microcosm)

    * – note this still doesn’t explain the entire Doug not a republican even though I can’t imagine voting “D” thing… ;P
    ** – I fully admit this is true of me and my rambling posts as well

  22. matt b says:

    BTW, Steve thanks for the link, I didn’t know about that blog and I’ve been looking for something like that for a while.

  23. anjin-san says:

    > Everybody I know believes the nuke treaty with the Russians favors the Russians.

    I believe that. Of course I shudder to think of who a person such as yourself might associate with.

    The Joint Chiefs think otherwise, but what do they know?

  24. anjin-san says:

    > The discussion in the press of Obama and Hillary Clinton failing the 3:00 AM

    That must be the discussion that is going on over at “The American Thinker” 🙂

  25. anjin-san says:

    > Tyrannical Socialist Marxist Fascists

    Not bad, but I like the sound of this:

    Tyrannical Socialist Marxist Fascist Insect

    Sort of a retro 60s thing…

  26. anjin-san says:

    > Obama and Hillary Clinton failing the 3:00 AM test on the MIddle East is not there because it’s made up. It’s going on because it’s the way it is

    Please tell us what the correct policy would be. Use specifics.

  27. matt b says:

    Anjin, in regards to:

    Obama and Hillary Clinton failing the 3:00 AM test on the MIddle East is not there because it’s made up. It’s going on because it’s the way it is

    The bigger issue is someone explain to me why any of that was a 3am moment?

    my understanding is that 3am moments are when you are caught off guard and have to make decisions on the spot/fly

    So…

    9/11 = 3am moment
    to a lesser degree Katrina/Asian Tsunami/Haiti = 3am moment

    Revolutions unfolding over days in countries that we don’t have forces in =/= 3am moment. There’s no need for a knee jerk reaction, to act when the call comes in at 3am. In fact, NO turning those things into 3am moments is what the administration did especially right.

    In fact, can anyone think of real 3am moments (on a national level) that took place in the last year. Giffords shooting? Maybe, but really more so for Tucson than for the Federal Government.

  28. Eric Florack says:

    Well, how about we examine his policies based on their historical outcome?
    I mean, I think a reasonable person would label Obama’s politics as “liberal” or “very liberal”. So, let’s look into history and see how liberal policies fare, over time… what the actual outcome is, shall we?

    Currently, Egypt is the hot topic and Libya.

    Jimmah Carter, whose list of disasters includes the abject stupidity involved with our handling of the Shah, and the Iranian Revolution. Most of you weren’t around at the time, but do some reading, folks. The noises Carter’s White House was making are not at all dissimilar to what Obama is making now….making out like the removal of the shah was some kind of victory for western style democracy. Look at the Iran we saw at the end of Carter’s mishandling of the office of POTUS, and look at it today, and explain to me what the hell either one has to do with western style democracy. Similar policies, beget similar results, and hence Egypt, today. With other nations joining the list of those being threatened by extremist muslims. Such as Egypt and Libya. The pattern is there and it’s not at all attractive.

  29. Steven Plunk says:

    I read about the 3:00 AM moment in the Washington Post, not American Thinker. You guys give your opinions then demand facts from the opposition. You can’t talk foreign policy successes because there are none. When all else fails it’s back to Bush and the wars. Make all the excuses you want but history will judge this presidency as a failure.

  30. mantis says:

    Well, how about we examine his policies based on their historical outcome?

    Ok. See you in twenty years or so.

    I mean, I think a reasonable person would label Obama’s politics as “liberal” or “very liberal”.

    His foreign policy? The “reasonable person” in your mind is an idiot.

    Anyway, tell us Florack, what should Obama be doing about Egypt? Invading?

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Anyway, tell us Florack, what should Obama be doing about Egypt? Invading?

    Or perhaps keeping the dictator in power? Hmm? Some people continue to cling to the Carter reincarnated fantasy as a way to comfort themselves, but the only people they are deluding with this bogus comparison are themselves and their fellow travelers, hardly enough to stop the president from winning reelection…

  32. Eric Florack says:

    Laughable. We both know what your reax woulda been had all these regimes fallen under Bush. You’ve have been screaming bloody murder.

    And in any event…. the questions I asked have yet to be answered.

  33. An Interested Party says:

    We both know what your reax woulda been had all these regimes fallen under Bush. You’ve have been screaming bloody murder.

    Well certainly if these regimes fell because of ill-advised invasions and botched occupations…

    What is really laughable is trying to twist logic and reason to somehow compare what Carter did involving Iran in the late 70s to what the president is doing involving Egypt now…continue to hold on to that Carter reincarnated fantasy for all the comfort it must bring you, if not any reality…

  34. matt b says:

    I read about the 3:00 AM moment in the Washington Post, not American Thinker.

    Ok… and that means what? That because it’s printed in the “liberal media” I need to accept it as Gospel? You’re the one who thinks that it’s important. What made those revolutions a 3.00am call? At this moment, I’m hard pressed to think of any “3am call” except “Haiti.” I’d love your argument for *why* Tunisia or Egypt were those moments. (Oh, and btw, you introduced the argument Steve, we rebutted. The rules of conversation mean that it’s up to you to prove your case.)

    I mean, I think a reasonable person would label Obama’s politics as “liberal” or “very liberal”.

    And that would be tied to “opinion” not facts (and I guess the result of so called Liberal media). His policies at best are very “Democratic” (as in “in-line” with the party-line) — something fundamentally different than liberal (and a mistake that is perpetuated by *bad* tools for measuring so called liberal/conservativeness).

    Basically that’s buying into the accounts of Conservative punits and the hopes of “very liberal” people (who projected their hopes on Obama vs. looking at his record).

    Again, the system that is always invoked constantly rates Dennis Kucinich as less liberal than Obama. Likewise, if memory serves, the same system ranked a vote *against* the F-35 engine appropriation as being “liberal” (even though it was an act of fiscal conservativeness) because it was a vote *against* the Republican party line.

    We both know what your reax woulda been had all these regimes fallen under Bush. You’ve have been screaming bloody murder.

    Huh? Why? That we didn’t participate in the downfall of the regimes? O that the regimes were allowed to downfall?!

    Given the amount of liberals who were screaming bloody murder (and taking to the streets) in protest of our toppling of one regime in particular — arguing that those of us opposed to Bush would somehow be angry at him for not invading Egypt seems a pretty illogical argument.

    Put a different way, I don’t remember much said one way or the other when… oh I don’t know, the Nepali government was overthrown (by Marxists no less!) in 2006. Remind me why/how I’m supposed to blame Bush for that? And what exact I think he did wrong then? Was he supposed to invade Nepal? Or was he supposed to wave his finger at them? Or did he forget to take credit?