Opinion: Leadership lacking in U.S. foreign policy

August 10, 2013


— Jen Psaki, blameless State Department spokeswoman, explained that the hasty evacuation of our embassy in Yemen was not an evacuation but “a reduction in staff.” This proved a problem because the Yemeni government had already announced (and denounced) the “evacuation” — the word normal folks use for the panicky ordering of people onto planes headed out of country.

Thus continues the administration’s penchant for wordplay, the bending of language to fit a political need. In Janet Napolitano’s famous formulation, terror attacks are now “man-caused disasters.” And the “global war on terror” is no more. It’s now an “overseas contingency operation.”

Nidal Hasan proudly tells a military court that he, a soldier of Allah, killed 13 American soldiers in the name of jihad. But the massacre remains officially classified as an act not of terrorism but of “workplace violence.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others are killed in an al-Qaida-affiliated terror attack — and for days it is waved off as nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration gone bad. After all, famously declared Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?

Well, it makes a difference, first, because truth is a virtue. Second, because if you keep lying to the American people, they may seriously question whether anything you say — for example, about the benign nature of NSA surveillance — is not another self-serving lie.

And third, because leading a country through yet another long twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity. This is a president who to this day cannot bring himself to identify the enemy as radical Islam. Just Tuesday night, explaining the U.S. embassy closures across the Muslim world, he cited the threat from “violent extremism.”

The word “extremism” is meaningless. People don’t devote themselves to being extreme. Extremism has no content. The extreme of what? In this war, an extreme devotion to the supremacy of a radically fundamentalist vision of Islam and to its murderous quest for dominion over all others.

But for President Obama, the word “Islamist” may not be uttered. Language must be devised to disguise the unpleasantness.

Result? The world’s first lexicological war. Parry and thrust with linguistic tricks, deliberate misnomers and ever more transparent euphemisms. Next: armor-piercing onomatopoeias and amphibious synecdoches.

This would all be comical and merely peculiar if it didn’t reflect a larger, more troubling reality: The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of policy — which is served by constant obfuscation.

Obama doesn’t like this terror war. He particularly dislikes its unfortunate religious coloration, which is why “Islamist” is banished from his lexicon. But soothing words, soothing speeches in various Muslim capitals, soothing policies — “open hand,” “mutual respect” — have yielded nothing. The war remains. Indeed, under his watch, it has spread. And as commander in chief he must defend the nation.

He must. But he desperately wants to end the whole struggle. This is no secret wish. In a major address to the National Defense University just three months ago he declared “this war, like all wars, must end.” The plaintive cry of a man hoping that saying so makes it so.

The result is visible ambivalence that leads to vacillating policy reeking of incoherence. Obama defends the vast NSA data dragnet because of the terrible continuing threat of terrorism. Yet at the same time, he calls for not just amending but actually repealing the legal basis for the entire war on terror, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Well, which is it? If the tide of war is receding, why the giant NSA snooping programs? If al-Qaida is on the run, as he incessantly assured the nation throughout 2012, why is America cowering in 19 closed-down embassies and consulates? Why was Boston put on an unprecedented full lockdown after the marathon bombings? And from Somalia to Afghanistan, why are we raining death by drone on “violent extremists” — every target, amazingly, a jihadist? What a coincidence.

This incoherence of policy and purpose is why an evacuation from Yemen must be passed off as “a reduction in staff.” Why the Benghazi terror attack must be blamed on some hapless Egyptian-American videographer. Why the Fort Hood shooting is nothing but some loony Army doctor gone postal.

In the end, this isn’t about language. It’s about leadership. The wordplay is merely cover for uncertain policy embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise.

This is not leading from behind. This is not leading at all.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Abdu Omar 4 years, 9 months ago

What a closed minded article! Since Charles is not Muslim and he does not understand that the Muslims of this country and abroad eschew the idea that the "radical Islamists" are Muslim at all. They are not. They have taken a religion to use as a starting point of their disasterous idea of making a change using violence. This is NOT permitted by the teachings of Islam in any way. "You who have Faith! show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to God consciousness. Keep God in your mind and heart. God is aware of what you do." (Qur'an 5: 8)

It is also stated that the punishment for killing one human being is as if they had killed all of mankind and the svaing of one life is as if they had saved all of mankind.

If the "jihadists" kill one person, they have not given them justice and they will suffer greatly under penalty in the hereafter. This act of killing is a sign that they have no faith and those without faith cannot be Muslim.

Second, the whole of the Muslim world is under attack because of the "jihadists" actions. How many people think that Islam is a vicious cult or an anti-Christ. It is because of the actions of a few that has stained the entire Muslim world. In an effort to defend our selves against this, our voices are not being heard by anyone except President Obama, who understands the situation and this writer blasts that as being a wrong.

It isn't the Muslims who are bombing, and killing, and making mischief on the earth-it is those who call themselves Muslims; who have hijacked this peaceful religion and made it sinister.

My proof of the above statement is that the Muslims of Lawrence have attended many meetings and demonstrations against the "jihadists" and have caused no problems in Lawrence and I submit, that across the world, they have done no harm.

Liberty275 4 years, 9 months ago

"It isn't the Muslims who are bombing, and killing, and making mischief on the earth-it is those who call themselves Muslims; who have hijacked this peaceful religion and made it sinister."

We have to deal with both. What are your suggestions?

Abdu Omar 4 years, 9 months ago

You are dealing one and don't need to worry about the other.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Wait, you mean that politicians use language that suits their purposes, and spin things? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 9 months ago

Result? The world’s first lexicological war.......

Really? Remember Reagan's "peacemaker" missles? The practice is as old as human politics.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 9 months ago

Laura Ingraham is as much a political analyst as Stephen Colbert. Of course, Mr. Colbert knows he's an entertainer. Does Ms. Ingraham even know she is an entertainer?

voevoda 4 years, 9 months ago

If Mrs. Clinton rates as a "disaster" as Secretary of State, what does that say about her predecessors under George W. Bush? At least Mrs. Clinton didn't launch a war of revenge directed against the wrong party (i.e. Iraq).

Of course, you could argue that all this just shows that the United States doesn't have the power to control all the other countries of the world, and no Secretary of State can alter that reality. But that line of reasoning, FastEddy, might not answer to your anti-Obama agenda.

voevoda 4 years, 9 months ago

Did I say that Hillary Clinton was "one of our finest Secretaries of State," FastEddy? There is a huge middle ground between "disaster" and "finest."

Please note, FastEddy, the circumstances of President Obama's praise for Mrs. Clinton. She was leaving public service, so he said complimentary things about her, as a boss ought to on such occasions. Only someone unschooled in the niceties would expect him to say anything else. And only someone determined to find fault with her and with President Obama would complain about it.

voevoda 4 years, 9 months ago

"Lies"? "Sins"? "Partisan drivel"? You are even less objective than President Obama, yet you want me to believe you and disbelieve him. Heaping inappropriate opprobrium on someone certainly makes me suspect that speaker of an irrational personal agenda.

The ones who voted for President Obama are the majority, so it seems quite a stretch to exclude them from "everyone." And maybe it's the people who voted against him who are the "low information citizens."

All things for you to consider, Fast Eddy.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 9 months ago

Mr K you're beating a dead horse. 5 years and zero leadership, do you honestly think there is any meaningful " Change you can believe in".

voevoda 4 years, 9 months ago

Clearly, juma, your "experience" in the Arab world has not enhanced your actual knowledge of Islam. What you say about how Islam "has always been violent and non peaceful" could equally well be said about Christianity. Or Judaism. Or HInduism. Or Buddhism. Or Shinto. Or atheism, for that matter. And all of these traditions can also, equally well, be characterized as non-violent and peaceful, as they have been. Choosing to single out Islam as "violent" and only violent testifies only to your prejudice, juma.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 9 months ago

Can we trade Krauthammer for Palin? I heard she got her degree in Journalism. At least Sarah is entertaining.

Krauthammer is a professional whiner.

Trumbull 4 years, 9 months ago

Benghazi. Basically the Republicans trying to capitalize on a tragedy for political purposes. Shame on them.

When the timeline of the rescue efforts was released, we all could see that the logistics were nearly impossible to initiate an immediate rescue. There just were not any real options.

Why has none of this "scandal" mud that has been flung not stuck? That is because there is nothing there. Shame on the Republicans.

Orwell 4 years, 9 months ago

More right wing lies, told endlessly to undermine the president and weaken America in the world.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

Let's look into what drives foreign policy...

For example a policy in which Charles K has endorsed. "Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination” (Very dangerous position which threatens OUR freedoms and the nations security) http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Project_for_the_New_American_Century

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

--- we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global protection for Wal-Mart,Oil,Coca Cola,Pepsico,diamonds,gold etc etc etc

--- we need to strengthen our ties to dictator regimes friendly to American interests and Bogus values;

--- we need to promote the cause of the political right wing and economic rape for corp USA abroad;

--- we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in forcing others to accept our corrupt principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and immoral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the extortions of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness no matter how many innocent USA soldiers die.

The Plan





Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

Merrill, you do realize the conspiracy propaganda you're spitting out is in actuality eclipsed by what is going on under Obama's watch. Big brother was quietly keeping tabs on everything it could until Snowden spoiled that for them. You can cry all you want about what you think is going on but the facts of what is being done should scare you more then some biased web sites.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

PNAC is very real no question about it. To this day.

The nations larger problem of unemployment has always centered around the following that which is documented.

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - TABOR is Coming by Grover Norquist = Grab Your Wallets! http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0705rebne.html

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Bailing out The Reagan/Bush Savings and Loan Heist aka home loan scandal sent the economy out the window costing taxpayers many many billions and millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT Bailing out the Bush/Cheney Home Loan Wall Street Bank Fraud cost consumers $ trillions, millions of jobs, loss of retirement plans and loss of medical insurance. Exactly like the Reagan/Bush home loan scam. Déjà vu can we say. Yep seems to be a pattern. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

--- This GOP ENTITLEMENT - Bush/Cheney implied many financial institutions were at risk instead of only 3? One of the biggest lies perpetrated to American citizens. Where did this money go? Why were some banks forced to take bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

--- RECKLESS GOP Tax cuts = THE GOP ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy which do nothing to make an economy strong or produce jobs. Tax cuts are a tax increase to others in order to make up the loss in revenue = duped again. Bush Tax Cuts aka GOP ENTITLEMENT program for the wealthy is at the expense of the middle class = duped one more time. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/0301miller.html

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

Obama Proves Snowden’s Point By: Jon Walker Friday August 9, 2013 12:59 pm

Edward Snowden leaked information about the reach and depth of NSA spying programs because he believed the American people and the world would oppose these intrusions if they know about them. These are not the policies that would emerge if they came from an open, informed and fair debate. They can only emerge from a secret process.

In his press conference today President Obama indirectly admitted that Snowden’s point was correct.

Now that the American people are learning about these NSA programs, Obama is finally forced to call for more disclosure and reforms. While the reforms Obama are putting forward are vague and rather weak, they are a significant rhetorical admission. Obama has stopped trying to pretend that the NSA can operate as it has been. The popular and legislative pressure for change has become too strong.

The status quo that existed before Snowden can’t be completely sustained now that the American people learned what is really going on. That is a pretty clear proof these policies should never have been allowed to be secretly created or continued in the first place in our “democracy.”

If Snowden wasn’t whistleblowing on wrongdoing then why would there be a need to call for reforms based on what he has revealed?

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 9 months ago

Good points.

I am still undecided about this. At the very least, I think some of Snowden's decisions have not been good. That does not excuse the government from being more forthcoming with the American people and it also brings up concerns about other issues related to the Patriot Act and Homeland Security.

Good intentions are not good enough.

We have seen that modern politics is involving the use of propaganda in ways that are deceitful. If these people are adopting a valueless approach to their politics, how can we trust their values when it comes to secret espionage activities and the production of propaganda that is being used against the American people?

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