A U.S. Navy handout picture dated September 29, 2010 showing U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) conducting an operational tomahawk missile launch.
MC1 Woody Shag Paschall/HANDOU/EPA

Foreign policy and the definition of ‘manhood’

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded a deeply pessimistic note about Russian incursions into Ukraine. “I think we’re going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it’s going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs,” Corker told David Gregory.
 
Naturally, the Republican senator blamed the Obama administration, complaining that U.S. foreign policy “is always a day late and a dollar short,” adding that that Russia’s actions are emblematic of the “era of permissiveness the U.S. has created around the world.”
 
It was the New York Times’ David Brooks, however, that took this same line of criticism to its “crude” limit.
“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.”
As Ben Armbruster noted, Chuck Todd echoed the sentiment, adding, “By the way, internally, they fear this. You know, it’s not just Bob Corker saying it, okay, questioning whether the president is being alpha male. That’s essentially what he’s saying: He’s not alpha dog enough. His rhetoric isn’t tough enough.”
 
It’s tough to know what to make of this, but it’s clearly important so let’s unpack it a bit.
 
Right off the bat, let’s note that it’s arguably well past time for the political world to stop equating “manhood” with “cruise missiles.” Being an “alpha male” or an “alpha dog” may somehow seem impressive, in a junior-high-school-yard sort of way, but when analyzing geopolitical crises, we need a different kind of framework.
 
There’s apparently a knee-jerk assumption among too many that “real men” use bombs, not diplomacy. If memory serves, President Obama’s predecessor, whom no one accused of having a perceived “manhood problem,” often thought the same way. The foreign policy consequences, however, were nevertheless disastrous.
 
What’s more, I’m struck by Brooks’ assumption that the White House isn’t “tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad.” Indeed, that already happened last year, when Obama threatened military force and Assad agreed to give up his chemical-weapons stockpiles.
 
Indeed, perhaps the strangest thing about asserting as fact that “there is an assumption” that Obama is “not tough enough” is all of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – even if we define “tough” in a way Brooks and others find satisfactory. It was this president who escalated the use of force against al Qaeda; it was this president that launched the mission that killed bin Laden; it was this president who increased the use of predator drones to strike at terrorist suspects (including killing Americans affiliated with al Qaeda living abroad); it was this president who helped assemble an international coalition to strike at the Gadhafi regime in Libya; and on and on.
 
If you knew literally nothing about the last five years, you might hear this chatter about “manhood” and “alpha males” and assume that President Obama was a pacifist, reluctant to use military force under any circumstances. But given what we know about what actually happened over the last five years, the scuttlebutt is just bizarre.
 

Foreign Policy and Russia

Foreign policy and the definition of 'manhood'