Obama and David Brooks’s Manhood Problem

(By Juan Cole)

David Brooks attacked President Obama on Sunday, saying:

“Basically since Yalta we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders, and once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world … all bets are off . . .”

… “And let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a — I’ll say it crudely — but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”

Brooks is an intellectual bully who likes bullies. He once criticized me in an NYT column for doubting that far right wing Israeli hawk Ariel Sharon was a man of peace. We know what sort of “peace” with the Palestinians would have made Sharon happy. It is quite annoying that Zionists keep demanding that the rest of us assent to their belligerence. Imagine if Serbian-Americans who supported Slobodan Milosevic had had this sort of megaphone in the US.

The post-Yalta assumption that ‘borders are going to be borders’ of which Brooks says he approves was violated by Israel, which is illegally annexing the Palestinian West bank. But that violation of international law doesn’t bother Brooks in the least, though it causes the US among its biggest diplomatic headaches in the Muslim world. Shouldn’t he be complaining that Obama hasn’t properly stood up to the Likud Party?

Brooks exemplifies the problem with US foreign policy, which is that the inside-the-beltway chickenhawks with small peckers equate military aggression with “manhood.”

You know who had a “manhood” problem? George W. Bush. He acted childishly, wantonly invading Iraq without a shred of international legality, because Saddam “tried to kill my daddy.” He even adopted the diction of a 4-year-old as he initiated the mass slaughter of several hundred thousand people and the displacement of millions. You see, the opposite of “manly” is not, as Brooks imagines, “cautious.” It is childish petulance.

Brooks, of course, was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. How often do you have to be completely wrong on the big issues of our time before you stop being given a prominent perch in giving the country policy advice?

Brooks also seems not to know much history. After Yalta, the Soviet Union invaded both Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the US did nothing about either. Brooks is insinuating that Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander who destroyed Adolf Hitler, has a “manhood problem”! Or LBJ, whose presidency was ruined by his inability to let Vietnam go when the US was obviously losing the guerrilla war there. Manhood isn’t recklessly confronting a rival in the rival’s own sphere of influence. The US is very far away from Crimea and would be unwise to get entangled there. Obama’s sanctions on Russia have already spooked its entrepreneurs, and are the most likely path to effective pressure on Moscow.

As for Syria, Brooks seems not to have noticed that by using diplomacy, Obama has managed to have 75% of Syrian chemical weapons neutralized, and is on track to see the whole stockpile destroyed. Tossing some cruise missiles on Damascus would not have accomplished that, and might well have had the opposite effect. Brooks should try reading his own newspaper sometime.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything useful the US can do there. Now that the most effective rebel fighters are al-Qaeda affiliates, you really wouldn’t want to hand Damascus over to them. The hope that the US could make sure only “moderates” got any powerful weaponry supplied to the rebel side is completely forlorn, as was demonstrated in Iraq. Brooks apparently would be happier if Obama had bombed Damascus, a symbolic action that would not have affected the course of the civil war but which could have had dire consequences for US interests in the region. That isn’t manly, it is adolescent.

Apparently you have to have a Peter Pan complex to be a big dog in Washington, ever staying the little boy who won’t grow up and who likes to play with six shooters. Bion of Borysthenes, an ancient Greek author, observed that “Boys throw stones at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest.” The little boys are the Washington hawks. The frogs are the rest of the world. Only, the rest of the world is not actually helpless frogs. As 9/11 should have signaled to us, there is a price to pay for recklessly inserting ourselves into quagmires in global backwaters. It isn’t worth it, and Obama is a man because he knows that, whereas Brooks is an insecure little boy.


related video:

The Young Turks: “David Brooks Defends McCain On Iraq Mistake”

49 Responses

  1. Osama bin Laden can attest to Obama’s wimpiness.

    I don’t even want to think how much Brooks makes from his NYT column and TV gigs to propagate this stuff.

  2. “Basically since Yalta we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders”

    Never mind Yalta, actually that assumption is kind of built into the Treaty of Westphalia, so we’ve had 375 years of it not working and Brooks has only now noticed. Idiot.

    • In February 1945, Yalta was part of Russia. All of Crimea was part of Russia.
      In 1954, a Ukrainian (ethnic Russian) was BMOC in the CCCP, Khruschev, and he generously bequeathed Crimea to Ukraine.
      under Yalta rules, shouldn’t Crimea be Russian ?

      Anyone here ever hear of the US partitioning Yugoslavia and giving Macedonia and Kossovo to non-Serbs ? Partitioning Sudan and giving Juba to non-Arabs ? Splitting off Timor L’este and giving it to non-Indonesians ? Liberating East Germany and Poland and giving them to pro-US agents ?
      The USA has never felt constrained by Yalta rules with regard to setting up friendly client states.

      • Exactly my sentiments Brian!! The pundit class makes too much money to point out our hypocrisy. Our military, industrial complex has been worried about what are we going to do about Nato and all the troops in Afghanistan. It also appears that we have milked the Iranian enemy as far as possible. So we start a new conflict (we started this).
        It is too bad that most Americans do not pay attention to foreign policy and if they do we have a very short attention span.

    • Yeah, because things were so just before Westphalia. Want to explain your practical alternative to nation-states whose governments’ makeups somewhat reflect the culture and language of the citizens and don’t bow down to foreign popes or wage holy wars?

      What part of “30 Year’s War” do you not understand, or not mind?

  3. The notion that everything can be solved – in foreign policy terms – by kicking your ass, or the threat of it, must end. If our recent history shows us anything, it is that we lace: a basic understanding of these societies; our legitimacy there has fallen ever since Reagan; relatedly, our unconditional support of Israel to the exclusion and detriment of an entire region has cost us; we lose every war we start there and in the process we ruin the people and the country; the law of unintended consequences always prevails; bringing the fight to them engenders no respect, fear, admiration or any other emotion we think we evoke. We should now try for even handed-ness, understand everyone’s interest and how to find equitable solutions that are not based on zero sum. Last, we should stop listening to pundits! Invest in the diplomatic corp and send people overseas to better understand people and needs, and not always for the sake of democracy and capitalism – you have to want that and be prepared for it.

    • I think we have been very successful in making people around the world fear us. but I agree with the rest.

  4. WOW! That’s some tongue lashing. And Brooks deserves it. Amazing how the media, like PBS even, tolerate his hypocritical rants.

  5. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was on Meet the Press earlier basically saying the same thing. Before that, Ukrainian P.M. “Yats” said Putin’s dream was to restore the Soviet Union. David Brooks saying”all bets are off” and making comments about Obama’s manhood is aimed at starting a bigger conflict with Putin over Ukraine and sending a warning to China just before Obama goes to Asia.

    Starting WWIII didn’t pan out in Iraq and Iran’s nuke thing fizzled out. So, these CRACKPOTS see Ukraine as a stepping stone to a much bigger war.


  6. Republican WWIII mantra….

    “If not now, when?”
    “If not Ukraine, where?”

  7. It amazes me that Brooks, who at times can appear so intelligent and even reasonable, can use that cover to say idiotic things and be taken seriously.

    • He figured out decades ago there was an opening for someone to tart hisself up lib’rul style and rent out his orifici to the AEI and Heritage wank tanks that front for Charlie Black and the other owners of The American Peeps (Republican) Party, cuz doing so gets you the civilized con slot at the NYTimes and the weekly telling lib’ruls whereat it is on PBS and Disco Dave’s.

      • Here is a concrete example of how Brooks made an intelligent comment. It was David Brooks who immediately condemned Trent Lott’s comments (in 2001), comments indicating Lott’s positive views of the racism of Strom Thurmond. He did so on the evening Lehrer News Hour, which I considered an act of considerable courage and independence (and truthfulness) at the time. Within a month, the new internet media had so thoroughly roasted Lott for his racism that he resigned as leader of the Senate.

  8. I think I understand what Brooks Is saying…If there is going to be any G###damn invasions of sovereign countries it should be done by this country! Like Bill Kristol this man is a spokesperson for the murderous policies proposed by AIPAC and the arm chair quarterbacks who think of our military as toy soldiers and planes.
    The fact that Kristol, Brooks, Gregory along with the nasty cabal over at FOX are allowed to make their outrageous remarks without rebuttal is a sad commentary on our political talk shows. I think Prof. Cole could make mince meat out of these miscreants, if allowed to do so.

  9. “Brooks, of course, was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. How often do you have to be completely wrong on the big issues of our time before you stop being given a prominent perch in giving the country policy advice?”

    And, it’s not only Brooks. The media are littered with pontificators who got it disastrously wrong on Iraq and are just as wrong and amoral as ever on current events.

  10. There’s an old saying attributable to the Chinese: “He who strikes the first blow admits to having the weaker mind.” In other words, people who lack the intelligence to win resort to violence.

    We might also note that people exhibiting what passes for courage by military aggression may also be lacking in moral courage such as obeying orders they know to be immoral and illegal.

    • In more pop culture terms, one of my earliest formative influences was a quote in Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy: “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.” Except for most of these guys, it’s the firstresort.

    • here’s a real quote from “The Art of War” by The Chinese Military Master Sun Tzu:
      “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”
      If you want to see why we win every Battle but lose every Imperialist War we fight, read “The Art of War”
      I read it when I got back from Vietnam and I cried.

    • I wish this was true. However, when I attended Michigan I was exposed to the Correlates of War Project of anti-war academic J. David Singer, which tried to objectively create a database of armed disputes. One of their depressing conclusions: as long as the dispute didn’t escalate past what we could call the 1st round, the odds favored the initiator of the violence winning what it claimed to have wanted.

      The game, therefore, is trying to get a quick win and declare peace before outsiders get involved. Leaders keep thinking they can beat the outsized consequences of those times when things drag out.

  11. “Trying not to give peace a chance: Exclusive: The trust between President Obama and President Putin helped avert a U.S. war on Syria and got Iran to agree to limit its nuclear program, but the neocon-driven crisis in Ukraine has dashed hopes of building on that success for a more peaceful world, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.” – link to consortiumnews.com

    Note the part describing the “macho” Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed to JFK’s diplomacy with Khrushchev over the Bay of Pigs incident.

  12. OK, let’s accept Brooks’ idea that borders have been settled since Yalta. Doesn’t that mean the Crimea never was really part of the Ukraine and that the Ukraine should in fact still be part of Russia, a Russia defined by the historical boundaries of the U.S.S.R.?

    An aside, my own courageous, fearless Prime Minister has just sent a few RCAF CF-18’s to Poland. I bet Putin heard about that and wet his pants – laughing. It reminds me again how grateful I am that Harper wasn’t in power during the run up to the second Iraq war.

  13. One of the side effects of the ad hominem style of political discourse we have been dragged into is that it begs emulation;”inside-the-beltway chicken-hawks with small peckers”. Very droll. There is however a grain of truth in Brook’s otherwise forgettable characterization of President Obama although not in a way he meant. It is clear that the Presidents decision early in his first mandate to adopt a lofty posture with respect to the utterly egregious mendacity and incompetence at that in the wars and conduct of foreign policy of Bush and the Republicans, to “look forward” as he put it, was a huge mistake. Whether this stemmed from cowardice or lack of judgement it has allowed the bunch of dilettante dickwads (how’s that for ad hominem?) like Brooks and Krauthammer et al to “move on”, as it were, as though they were not stained in the blood of Americans and all the rest who died due to their disastrous expressions of their manhood. On a more substantive level, Obama’s relative lack of naive bellicosity and more rational response to conflict, while an experience similar to ceasing to smash yourself in the head with a hammer compared to Cheney and Bush, is not a substitute for a coherent doctrine. The best evidence for this lack of focus is the ineffectual use of the bully pulpit to educate the American public, or at least attempt to do so in the face of the huge megaphone placed in the hands of the plutocrats of wealth by the plutocrats in the supreme court, about the real threats to peace, not the least of which are empowered likudists, climate change and legacies of previous exercises in carrying and using big sticks by powerful but ill informed politicians of years past. In the end, it is the quality of leadership not manhood that is in question and I look in vain for evidence that Obama intends to move far from the Washington consensus view of history and economics that has seen America fumble it’s way from one disaster to the next and play a huge role in creating the intransigent and brutal present circumstances in places like the Middle East. To do so would require courage of the kind that FDR showed when he rose to the challenge of his day.

    • Obama didn’t prosecute the crimes of Bush/Cheney because he’s a ringer for the 1% and is as corrupt as Cheney.

      • Actually, I think he’s more corrupt than Dubya-idiot, at least, because he knows the difference and won’t speak it; he never intended to use the “bully pulpit” to tell Americans the truth for two reasons: a) he remembered the events of November 22nd, 1963; and b) he expects to be on the “billion dollars a throw” speakers’ circuit by 2017, just as Bubba is.

    • ” In the end, it is the quality of leadership not manhood that is in question and I look in vain for evidence that Obama intends to move far from the Washington consensus view of history and economics that has seen America fumble it’s way from one disaster to the next and play a huge role in creating the intransigent and brutal present circumstances in places like the Middle East. To do so would require courage of the kind that FDR showed when he rose to the challenge of his day.”

      This has been my greatest disappointment (I voted for Obama both times). I was hoping for change, but instead what I find is a status-quo president; more secretive, more prone to use special forces and CIA, drones, and involvement of USA in many more unknown (to the public at large) conflicts. His use of financial and economic sanctions is eventually going to make them ineffective as mid level powers such as Brazil, India will not continue to commit economic suicide at the behest of America. They have resulted in short term successes no doubt.

  14. Brooks is a grade A nimrod whose milquetoast, circuitous and facile arguments are not worth the paper they are wiped on!!

    It’s keystrokes wasted – NO ONE cares!! Please do not give this crap the time of day.

    “Bully”???? He wishes…

    It’s amazing to me that the guy even has a job… of any kind.

  15. Then there is the alligator in the playpen problem. The current US military has been tested and found wanting against foes that did not have any airpower, heavy artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers, sophisticated communications and intelligence systems, medevac, near infinite logistic support, and in many cases, a good pair of shoes. In spite of poor overall results, the US has been able to destroy any enemy target with impunity (often without sending troops danger), and without expectation of retaliation in kind, i.e. fish jumping out of the barrel and biting us..

    But Russia has all those military capabilities we have, though maybe not as robust. So a military conflict with Russia would either a throwback to WW1, WW2, or a lurch into nuclear Armageddon. With a couple of nukes North Korea has kept us at bay. Russia, with a few thousand should do at least as well.

    Tough, virile guys like Brooks and Krauthammer know the truth, but can’t admit it in public. Russia is not like Grenada, Panama, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Waziristan, Somalia, . . . . . .. Think Godzilla and King Kong.

    • This is the reality. And any politician who tries to honestly educate the public that it’s all that $750,000,000,000 a year in military spending can ever get us will be crucified. Because we feel pleasure and a sense of false security at being able to order other societies around, across our political spectrum.

  16. Glenn Greenwald wrote the following about Brooks in 2009 (Salon):

    “… only he [Brooks] and people like him are strong and courageous enough to confront the towering enemy (by sending other people “outside the wire in dangerous places”). Those opposed to the war or even to escalation are cowards who want to “surrender to the Taliban.” And even with the unbroken record he has on Iraq that should shame and discredit him for life (or at least until there’s some serious examination, acknowledgment and repentance), he is the second-most influential commentator among “Congressional and political insiders” – second to one of the very few commentators who did more to bring about that war than Brooks himself did. What type of nation do you think we will be if “insiders” have their views most shaped by people with the record of David Brooks and Tom Friedman?”

    (David Brooks: our nation’s premier expert warrior)

  17. I believe David Brooks is jewish. Whether he is or not his “no borders” comment is exactly the current Israeli Zionist policy. Just a coincidence ?

  18. “Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander who destroyed Adolf Hitler”

    More accurately, “who helped the Russians destroy Adolf Hitler. The Red Army chewed up at least twice the number of Germans as the rest of the Allies combined.

    • Eisenhower was a Republican, but he would have been thrown out of todays Republican Party for being too “Soft” and “Weak” by Republican Chicken Hawks like Cheney, Bush and Boehner.
      Stalin, on the other hand, would fit right in.

    • Glad you threw that in if it hadn’t been for the Russians occupying several frontline wehrmacht divisions Eisenhower would never have gotten ashore at Normandy.

      • Several? Russia kept several million German troops busy. All of Hitler’s pro-fascist allies from Bulgaria to France sent troops to help him, the cream of their fascist movements, and few came home. In effect, Stalin not only destroyed Hitler, he wiped out the violent male constituency for any future Hitler. Stalin’s army took a million casualties in the Berlin campaign alone. These were the biggest battles ever waged.

  19. The great thing about America is that anybody can expound on anything no matter how little they know about the subject. Brooks, Krauthammer etc typify this. Unlike years ago, the writings on the internet by people who do know the subject allows those who wish to learn the opportunity to do so.

  20. If the USA must put up with tyrannies, for example like the Saudi Arabia, because of self-national interest, either for profit or for fear of loss, then USA lacks the gentlemanhood.

  21. The outstanding example of a leader with manhood issues is Putin. He’s acting like a man with a tiny, little…. At a time of crisis which could very easily spiral towards nuclear war, give me a leader lacking a little “manhood”.

  22. Thanks to the author for this: “Brooks exemplifies the problem with US foreign policy, which is that the inside-the-beltway chickenhawks with small peckers equate military aggression with “manhood.””

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