Not so Manly

Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan
Paul Davis Ryan (born January 29, 1970) is an American politician, the United States Representative for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district, and the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for Vice President of the United States in the 2012 election. | Photo: Time Inc. | Paul Ryan, Vice President, Republican, Congressman, 2012,

For some warhawks, we're never strong enough.

In the list of "almost funny" ideas that politicians and pundits embrace is the belief that despite being the mightiest military power on the face of the Earth, the United States looks like a wimp.

The US defense budget for this year, well over $500 billion, is almost three times China's, the runner-up. We have a nuclear force that can annihilate anyone in the world. In this century we've occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, sent our forces into Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Uganda and probably engaged in cyber-warfare against Iran. Yet the warhawks in Washington still shriek that the world isn't sufficiently afraid of us.

Paul Ryan, for instance, concluded recently that the Russian occupation of the Crimea happened because Obama's a wimp. His policies, Ryan claims, "show weakness. I think it invites aggression 'I think it creates a vacuum that is filled by these types of actions." Obama "hasn't projected enough strength and hasn't shown a priority to the national defense."

Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer explains that by not acting against Russia, Obama has created a vacuum and "Putin fully occupies vacuums." Ed Morrissey of the Hot Air website says "it's important to send signals of strength" and Obama doesn't. Pundit Cal Thomas says not stopping Russia makes us "the laughingstock of the world's dictators."

Likewise, John McCain, in a recent New York Times column, claims he's not blaming Obama for the Crimea, but then does it anyway. According to McCain, Obama's decisions to withdraw from Iraq and to not deploy anti-missile defenses in Europe makes us look weak, which leads Russia defying our will. Sarah Palin claims that the world sees Obama as a virtual castrati compared to Putin's raw manly machismo: Putin comes across "as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans."

Some of this, of course, is pure politics. Republicans have had a lot of success over the years insisting that they're the strong party that keeps us safe (even after Bush II proved that was balderdash). Implying that we're in mortal peril with a Dem in the White House is SOP.

I don't think that explains all of it though, as I heard the same shrieks from the right during the Bush years. If Iran is doing something we don't like (such as continuing to exist), we have to act! If we don't respond aggressively, the next thing you know, terrorists will break down our doors, take our women and blow up our livestock! Likewise, no matter how many billions of dollars and thousands of lives we waste in Iraq, we can't withdraw. It makes us look weak, and terrorists will ' well, you get the idea.

The reason it's funny is the absurdity. We're the nation that invaded Iraq for no reason other than that our government really, really wanted to. We blow up wedding parties and funerals with drone strikes. I doubt there's any nation on Earth that sees us as peaceful, easy-going and reluctant to use violence. Well, except us.

It's also funny because warhawks seem convinced that calling for the US to get tough is the same thing as being tough. If people around the world fear the United States, the warhawks can feel their own testosterone surging. If they don't fear us, if we're a "laughingstock," that's a personal humiliation. It's machismo on the cheap, but they seem quite satisfied with that: Radio pundit Hugh Hewitt, for example, once said that just by living in New York, he was on the front lines of the Iraq war.

But in the end, it's not that funny, because obsessing over American machismo leads to us doing such stupid things. If the issue is our military strength, we can sleep safe in our beds; as Lincoln once said, no nation has the power to conquer us by force. If the focus is whether we look strong, then our might is never enough. Withdrawing from Afghanistan, cutting defense spending, failing to intervene in the conflict du jour'even if they don't hurt our military security, warhawks can condemn them for supposedly looking weak. It's the logic by which pundit Jonah Goldberg said invading Iraq was justified because the US needs to "pick up some small, crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

This kind of thinking is great for the military-industrial complex that benefits from all that spending from right-wing nanny-staters. It's great for pundits who want to feel like manly warriors without ever actually being a warrior, or elected officials who want to cover themselves against the deadly cry of "soft on defense."

For the rest of us? It kind of sucks.

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Updated Jul 11, 2018 1:00 AM UTC | More details


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