I love the word feckless. And obviously, I’m not the only one. Lately, Republicans and right-wing-leaning media outlets (like The Wall Street Journal) have been using the word like Kleenex during flu season. The term isn’t new, but it’s been reinvigorated with the events in Ukraine. I wonder how many people know what feckless really means. (Its first auto-complete fill-in on google is “definition” – googling “reckless” doesn’t show the same curiosity for what it means.)
Why not just call Obama weak? Well, they do that too, but feckless has advantages over weak. One is that it alliterates with foreign policy. Two is that Democrats spent most of eight years calling Bush reckless; it’s almost like this is the rejoinder. Three is that despite what Webster’s may tell you, feckless doesn’t only mean weak; it also implies weakly haphazard, flailing. This is important because the ideal Republican disparagement of Obama references both his general weakness and also his drone strikes and occasional bursts of military ruthlessness (say, the killing of Osama Bin Laden). The ideal characterization of Obama is that of a fighter punching above his weight class who nevertheless gets in a few lucky sucker punches. The ideal word, then, is feckless.
Has Obama’s feckless foreign policy encouraged Vladimir Putin to believe he could move troops into Crimea with impunity? Well, I don’t know. Did the Soviets invade Hungary in 1956 because Eisenhower looked weak during that Normandy invasion? Invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 because Johnson was so wimpy as to send a million troops to Vietnam? Did the Russians invade Georgia in 2008 because George W. Bush hadn’t sent a strong enough message? 2008, eh? I wonder, six years ago, did liberals and Democrats blame that invasion on Bush’s recklessness, fecklessness, or any other –ecklessness? They must have been just as obsessed with blaming everything on Bush, right? Because all this Obama-blame is just tit for tat, right? If only there was some way to search for articles from 2008…oh right, there is. I’ll wait.
The truth is, bad things happened in the world from 2001 to 2008 that liberals didn’t routinely blame on the sitting President. Like a US spy plane caught by Chinese authorities. Like A.Q. Khan opening up Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran. Like Bolivia going Communist. I suppose one strain of conservative thinking might react by saying, “Of course liberals didn’t blame Bush – it wasn’t his fault!” Not sure that’s helping.
Has Obama made foreign-policy mistakes? Absolutely. Syria leaps to mind. We might have saved millions had we acted as forthrightly as we had in Libya. But if the neocons want him to demonstrate some of that Libya-like fortitude, they might stop screaming Benghazi as often as they say feckless. Is Obama right to reduce the military and resituate America as a leading power instead of the world-leading superpower? It’s debatable. What’s not debatable is that Americans have lost any taste we may have ever had for sending our soldiers gallivanting about the globe seeking blood and treasure. Blame the twin oceans on our shores if you like, but we’re fundamentally an isolationist country. Any logical foreign policy recognizes that first, and explains why we have to make an exception this time. Crying “feckless” at every foreign event is its own sort of fecklessness.
I do worry that the word may be getting worn out by overuse, a blade that’s become dull. We all know the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and how he left people shrugging when a real wolf (or Russian bear?) came to the door. The most effective critics of a President are the ones who don’t criticize every single thing said President does. Similarly, the most believable voices on foreign policy are the ones who don’t say the same thing every time the rest of the world comes up in conversation.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say someone says to you, “Hey, do you know what kind of maternity leave Germany gives to its people?” or “Have you seen this thing that any Australian can walk into a store and buy?” or “Hey, did you know that in South Korea, wi-fi is everywhere and never takes more than a second to load?” Who do you think that person voted for in the last Presidential election? Ding-ding-ding! “Obama” is right.
On the other hand, let’s say someone says to you, “So, I guess you want us to turn into China,” or “They hate us for our freedoms” or “Have you seen what such-and-such Middle-Eastern country did yesterday? Reminds me of Hitler.” Who do you think that person voted for instead of Obama? A Republican? How’d you know?
As the parties have become more calcified – and it’s not just vanishing moderate Republicans, it’s also an under-examined “liberal consensus” amongst many Democrats – so has Republicans’ hate for most of the world along with Democrats’ love for most of it. What’s the problem? The problem is predictability. I can’t trust you to make me an interesting lunch if you grill the same burger every time. Likewise, if you see the world only one way, how am I supposed to believe you understand a knock-off Dostoyevsky novel called Crimea and Putinishment?
I think I’ve made it clear on this blog that so-called “moderate” voices don’t always speak well for the majority of Americans. However, on matters of foreign policy, they’re often closer to the truth. Give me Bob Gates or David Brooks or Thomas Friedman on Ukraine. Give me someone who can praise some countries and vilify others.
Right now, I think populist Americans think of the rest of the world as the place that their jobs were outsourced to. It’s the place that has the accents we hear when we call customer service. So if we’re bound to stop Putin in Ukraine, some leader is bound to explain how such sacrifice is specifically going to bring jobs back to America. We have enough problems forcing accountability on white-collar criminals. We better have a great plan for white-Communist Crimeans.