Friday, February 23, 2007


Mom: Dick, stop throwing rocks at the school! There are kids inside and they're getting hurt.

Dick: I'm sorry, Mom, but I can't quit throwing rocks. The other guys will think I'm weak and lack resolve. Why, if I were to stop, they'd laugh at me and call me a coward.

Mom: OK, dear. We can't have your feelings getting hurt. Keep on throwing rocks and hurting the kids. That's the manly thing to do... I guess.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
One of the hallmarks of the Bush presidency -- arguably the central one -- is that we have adopted the mentality and mimicked the behavior of "our enemies," including those whom we have long considered, rightfully so, to be savage and uncivilized. As a result, our foreign policy consists of little more than flamboyant demonstrations of our own "toughness" because that, so the thinking goes, is the only language which "our enemies" understand, and we must speak "their language" (hence, we stay in Iraq not because it makes geopolitical sense, but because we have to prove to Al Qaeda that they cannot "break our will").

Thus, any measure designed to avert war -- negotiations, diplomacy, compromise, an acceptance of the fact that we need not force every country to submit to our national Will -- are scornfully dismissed as "weakness," which, in turn, is "provocative." Conversely, war-seeking policies are always desirable because they show how tough and strong we are.

Historian Richard Hofstadter, in his influential 1964 Harper's essay entitled The Paranoid Style in American Politics, described this dynamic perfectly:
Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. [...] At least in terms of these impulses, there really are virtually no distinctions between the mindset of the neoconservative Civilization Warriors and the Islamic extremists to whose eradication they are so devoted.
Their obsessions with displays of power and their (quite related) intense fear of being perceived as weak are, as Hofstadter documented so conclusively, more psychological and personal than political, and it is what binds them to the Islamic radicals who are driven by the same impulses (as Andrew Sullivan recently noted in response to a horrific story of a British Muslim man killing his whole family because the women wanted to be "too Western": "So much of Islam's violence seems to stem from men's fear of losing control of women").

Those consumed by feelings of their own weakness are always desperate to find ways to be perceived as strong. Seeking out and fighting wars (or, in the case of George Bush and his neoconservative comrades, cheering them on from a distance), is an ideal way to accomplish that. Conversely, in this mental paradigm, a willingness to negotiate and explore peaceful ways of conflict resolution is nothing more than a pitiful sign of weakness to be avoided at all costs.


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