But after Vietnam, most liberals moved on. It became unfashionable to talk about evil. Some liberals came to believe in the inherent goodness of man and the limitless possibilities of negotiation. Some blamed conflicts on weapons systems and pursued arms control. Some based their foreign-policy thinking on being against whatever George W. Bush was for. If Bush was an idealistic nation-builder, they became Nixonian realists.
I’m always afraid to write about David Brooks, because I worry that my attitude toward this guy is colored by certain strong feelings I have about his appearance – he just looks like a professional groveler/ass-kisser, and every time I see him in public I have to fight off visions of him home at night in his Versace jammies, feverishly jacking off with one hand while caressing in the other an official invitation to, say, a White House event, or a Harvard Club luncheon.
Brooks is the kind of character who has thrived everywhere he’s lived throughout human history; it’s incredibly easy to imagine the nebbishy, hairy-kneed Gaius Domitus Brooksius strolling through Rome and swelling with pride over his new appointment to the post of Senior Licker of the Caligulan butt crack.
A week ago or so a friend pointed out Brooks’s recent toadyist masterpiece, Obama’s Christian Realism, but I didn’t read it until today, not wanting to get upset over the weekend. It’s a pretty awesome piece of apologia, one whose seeming purpose is to hang a cloak of nobility on Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war. The Cliff’s Notes version of the Brooks argument would go something like this:
1. A hundred years ago, then-Princeton University president John Hibben used to admonish his graduates: there is good and evil inside all of us.
2. Evil is foreign despotism, the regimes of Stalin and Hitler being good examples. Goodness is Americans committing troops to replace those governments with democracy.
3. After Vietnam, that kind of armed goodness became “unfashionable,” as lily-livered domestic peaceniks regrettably lost sight of just how good we are and how evil the evil out there is.
4. Barack Obama is dispensing with the secularist discomfort with military commitment by committing more troops to Afghanistan, thereby restoring our faith in America’s essentially Christian mission to spread goodness through force.
Lest anyone think that I’m over-interpreting Brooks’s words, here’s the money passage in his argument:
[Obama’s] speeches at West Point and Oslo this year are pitch-perfect explications of the liberal internationalist approach. Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.
My first thought upon reading this was, “Wasn’t it just yesterday that Brooks was putting the same theological tongue up George Bush’s ass?” In fact it wasn’t yesterday but two years ago, but the basic answer is yes: Brooks gushingly painted Bush with the same “Christian warrior” brush in his interview with the lame-duck president back in July of 2007:
Rather, [Bush’s] self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
Sometimes it’s hard not to marvel at the amazingly flexible nature of American propaganda. George Bush openly sold the invasion of Iraq as an absolutist exercise in Christian goodness versus non-Christian evil – remember his famous dictum that “God is not neutral” in our fight for justice and freedom – and for his trouble was roundly bashed as a fundamentalist lunatic among the very people Brooks is pitching this column to, educated east coast liberals.
Now Obama is quietly tiptoeing up to the same sorts of policy decisions, and in rushes David Brooks, as willing an official mouthpiece as this country has ever had, and pitches exactly the same ethical argument as justification for Obama’s moves.
The difference here is entirely about style and marketing: instead of referencing the Bible-thumping fire-and-brimstone/snake-handling Christianity that so appealed to Bush’s base, Brooks enlists Princeton, Scoop Jackson, Peter Beinart and Reinhold Niebuhr as cultural markers in his hyping of Obama’s brand of liberal Christian missionary zeal. In a bit of supreme dishonesty he even throws in a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was never anything but a confirmed pacifist, as a piece of Obama’s interventionist puzzle.
The schtick here is all about painting the opponents of military intervention as cynics who lack moral confidence, perhaps because they lack the backbone of Christian belief. Take this passage:
[Obama] said he was not against war per se, just this one, and he was booed by the crowd. In 2007, he spoke about the way Niebuhr formed his thinking: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”
What’s most disgusting about Brooks is that he has it backwards. “Cynicism” is invading a country for the sorts of reasons that have guided the United States in most of their interventionist actions since World War II. There is a American kid in Afghanistan who is going to die tomorrow because Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want his boss to have to answer toughness questions from somebody like Brian Williams in a 2012 electoral debate. And I’m the cynic here?
Brooks is a perfect example of the kind of spineless Beltway geek we always see beating the war drum at times like these. It’s because nebbishly little dorks like Brooks and Paul Wolfowitz and David Frum got their books dumped in high school that we end up dropping daisy cutters on Afghan sheep herds and shipping working class American kids halfway around the world to get their nuts blown off. That sounds like a simplistic explanation, but anyone who doesn’t have a keen ear for the pencil-pusher’s eternal quest for macho cred is going to have a hard time understanding Washington politics. Brooks’s columns have always been the easiest way to take the pulse of that particular dynamic, and it sure seems now that bureaucratic momentum for intervention and more intervention is re-inflating the chests of these Beltway generals.
Anyway, I almost can’t wait to see where this goes. Is the world ready for “Barack Obama, Christian Warrior?”