Dr. Krauthammer's theory of Obama

Of late, President Obama’s passivity towards events abroad and focus on fundraising and fun has been regarded as something of a puzzle, by both his opponents and some of his fellow Democrats, including California’s Senior Senator Dianne Feinstein. With the world visibly careening toward violence, why is the president focused on golf and political cash? The current buzzword is “optics” (meaning “appearances,” a perfectly good word -- as is “optics,” construed as a branch of physics, its original meaning). How on earth, goes the puzzlement, can the president ignore his grave responsibilities?

Charles Krauthammer, a highly credentialed but currently non-practicing psychiatrist, has an intriguing answer, one that focuses on ideology, not psychology. Writing in National Review:

Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it. He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is one of Obama’s favorite sayings. Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.

Impersonal forces of history, bending in a certain direction. Dr. Krauthammer knows where this theory of history comes from (Hegel and Marx), but he studiously avoids specifying its origins, probably a wise move, considering it is held to be gauche to impugn Obama as anything resembling a Marxist. In the world since Joe McCarthy, that simply isn’t done, dahling.

Let history do the dirty work:

If you really believe this, then there is no need for forceful, potentially risky U.S. counteractions. Which explains everything since: Obama’s pinprick sanctions; his failure to rally a craven Europe; his refusal to supply Ukraine with the weapons it has been begging for.

The shooting down of a civilian airliner seemed to validate Obama’s passivity. “Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences,” explained Obama. See. You play with fire, it will blow up in your face. Just as I warned. Now world opinion will turn against Putin.

As if “world opinion” means anything. Dr. K has been around long enough and read enough history to realize this is a chimera:

To which I say: So what? World opinion, by itself, is useless: malleable, ephemeral and, unless mobilized by leadership, powerless. History doesn’t act autonomously. It needs agency.

In the long run, as Keynes famously noted, we are all dead:

Of course, in the long run nothing lasts. But history is lived in the here and now. The Soviets had only 70 years, Hitler a mere twelve. Yet it was enough to murder millions and rain ruin on entire continents. Bashar Assad, too, will one day go. But not before having killed at least 100,000 people.

All domination must end. But after how much devastation?

Such costs are immaterial to those who believe in great forces of history. Witness the death toll imposed by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, surpassing even Hitler in the 20th century.  I fear Dr. K’s theory, because if it is correct, we are in for one helluva ride the next 2 and a half years. There’s a lot of history ahead, just as there was one hundred years ago, in late July.

Of late, President Obama’s passivity towards events abroad and focus on fundraising and fun has been regarded as something of a puzzle, by both his opponents and some of his fellow Democrats, including California’s Senior Senator Dianne Feinstein. With the world visibly careening toward violence, why is the president focused on golf and political cash? The current buzzword is “optics” (meaning “appearances,” a perfectly good word -- as is “optics,” construed as a branch of physics, its original meaning). How on earth, goes the puzzlement, can the president ignore his grave responsibilities?

Charles Krauthammer, a highly credentialed but currently non-practicing psychiatrist, has an intriguing answer, one that focuses on ideology, not psychology. Writing in National Review:

Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it. He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is one of Obama’s favorite sayings. Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.

Impersonal forces of history, bending in a certain direction. Dr. Krauthammer knows where this theory of history comes from (Hegel and Marx), but he studiously avoids specifying its origins, probably a wise move, considering it is held to be gauche to impugn Obama as anything resembling a Marxist. In the world since Joe McCarthy, that simply isn’t done, dahling.

Let history do the dirty work:

If you really believe this, then there is no need for forceful, potentially risky U.S. counteractions. Which explains everything since: Obama’s pinprick sanctions; his failure to rally a craven Europe; his refusal to supply Ukraine with the weapons it has been begging for.

The shooting down of a civilian airliner seemed to validate Obama’s passivity. “Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences,” explained Obama. See. You play with fire, it will blow up in your face. Just as I warned. Now world opinion will turn against Putin.

As if “world opinion” means anything. Dr. K has been around long enough and read enough history to realize this is a chimera:

To which I say: So what? World opinion, by itself, is useless: malleable, ephemeral and, unless mobilized by leadership, powerless. History doesn’t act autonomously. It needs agency.

In the long run, as Keynes famously noted, we are all dead:

Of course, in the long run nothing lasts. But history is lived in the here and now. The Soviets had only 70 years, Hitler a mere twelve. Yet it was enough to murder millions and rain ruin on entire continents. Bashar Assad, too, will one day go. But not before having killed at least 100,000 people.

All domination must end. But after how much devastation?

Such costs are immaterial to those who believe in great forces of history. Witness the death toll imposed by Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, surpassing even Hitler in the 20th century.  I fear Dr. K’s theory, because if it is correct, we are in for one helluva ride the next 2 and a half years. There’s a lot of history ahead, just as there was one hundred years ago, in late July.