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September 17, 2012

Liz Cheney Makes Criticizing Obama Look Hard
Posted by David Shorr

Chen11051If you've ever wondered what is the basis on which right-wing firebreathers argue the supposed weakness of Obama foreign policy, Liz Cheney's Wednesday WSJ op-ed shows how it's done. With its ludicrous twists of logic, the piece merely proves that Republicans this year can only mount a foreign policy critique and argument by pulling it out of, um, thin air.

Truth be told, it's been several weeks since John Bolton gave me fresh material to put through the ol' foreign policy fallacy shredder. So I have to thank Ms. Cheney for providing such Boltonesque fodder. 

Of course the news hook for the piece was last week's attacks on US diplomatic missions in the Middle East. And President Obama's scandalous response?

The president appeared in the Rose Garden less than 24 hours later to condemn the Libya assault and failed even to mention the attack in Egypt. The message sent to radicals throughout the region: If you assault an American embassy but don't kill anyone, the U.S. president won't complain.

Let's see if I can grasp the point here. The president's statement in honor of the diplomats murdered in Benghazi was an implicit message of "no biggie" regarding the protesters who breached the gates of the Cairo embassy?? So this is the clear sign of American weakness: the failure to mention the Egypt protests in the statement honoring Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. Does that strike anyone else as a bit of a stretch?

Besides, President Obama certainly did react to the events in Egypt -- not only expressing his displeasure directly to President Morsi, but publicly upping the stakes for US-Egyptian relations by saying he's not sure whether Egypt is a US ally. For former Bush White House aide David Frum, the statement was "Obama's shrewdest gaffe." (There were similar takes from Mideast expert Juan Cole and Michael Tomasky.)  Commentary on the attacks also included a persuasive caution against over-reacting; funnily enough, that caution came from prominent Republican foreign policy maven Robert Kagan. 

As Liz Cheney's indictment of Obama foreign policy goes on, her case only gets more laughable. For instance there's Cheney's slam against cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, which she chalks up to "the leftist fallacy that the key to world peace is for the US to pre-emptively disarm."  And if that choice line isn't quite shrill enough, she goes on to say: "These are steps you take only if you believe that America—not her enemies—is the threat." Oh, and Cheney characterizes Obama as "standing silently with the mullahs" after the stolen election of 2009 and violent crackdown on protesters.

These last bits of slander don't deserve a response; their ugliness speaks for itself. As for the well-worn argument denying any link between the US arsenal and the spread of history's deadliest arms, it leaves a huge hole where the Non-Proliferation Treaty should be. The international framework for nonproliferation not only calls on the nuclear "have-nots" to never acquire n-weapons, but also requires the "haves" to get rid of ours. Notwithstanding Liz Cheney's caricature, progressives do not believe that US arms control steps will inspire Iranian leaders toward their own good deeds. But we do believe that if America keeps more arms than it could ever justify, this would indeed make it much harder to bring international pressure on Tehran or Pyongyang.

Naturally, Cheney's version of the abandoning-our-friends trope invokes the prime minister of Israel:

In too many parts of the world, America is no longer viewed as a reliable ally or an enemy to be feared. Don't take my word for it. Ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Recent news has been rife with reports about the prime minister's demands for a more bellicose approach toward Iran. But did you know who isn't standing behing Netanyahu's rush to war? Well for one thing, a sizable chunk of Israeli officialdom and the country's security establishment. This is the Israeli domestic political reality that isn't reflected in our own politics: Netanyahu is pretty far out on a limb with his position on Iran. 

Cheney concludes with the requisite scare tactics over sequestration. As we know, this particular talking point is distortion in its purest form. The very point of the 2011 budget deal's so-called "triggers" was for them to be so horrifying that lawmakers would take action on the deficit to avoid them. The defense cuts are draconian by design, holding a proverbial gun to the head of congressional Republicans. If that threat fails to produce deficit reduction, then you can say the Republicans aren't really serious about the deficit. You can also say they reneged on the deal they made last year. But you can't say President Obama made those cuts to the defense budget. 

Photo: US Departmtent of State

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