Entry from July 21, 2006

Off on one of his usual anti-Bush tirades in the New York Times, Paul Krugman characterizes those who, like William Kristol, advocate military action against Iran — or, indeed, against pretty much anyone else — as “crazies.” Likewise Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — crazy beyond redemption, apparently. But, perhaps surprisingly, President Bush is not a crazy himself, on Professor Krugman’s reckoning but is only being manipulated by the crazies that surround him. The Prof. even imagines a President who can say no. “For years the self-proclaimed ‘war president’ basked in the adulation of the crazies,” he writes. “Now they’re accusing him of being a wimp.” And he quotes Mr Kristol as saying that “We have been too weak and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.”

“Does Mr. Bush have the maturity to stand up to this kind of pressure?” asks the pundit rhetorically.

He makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t think so, but even allowing for the possibility is more than we might have expected — at least until we realize that this is a sort of dare. Just as a boy who is spoiling for a fight will dare another boy to “step over this line,” so Professor Krugman is daring the President not to live down to his expectations. Except that he’s not daring him to fight; he’s daring him not to fight. It’s a peculiar characteristic of the liberal worldview, perhaps dervived from some Freudian paradigm of “overcompensation,” to suppose that it is not only wiser but actually braver not to respond to provocation by hitting back, not only more mature but actually stronger to allow ourselves to appear weak. Or, as Mary Ann Sieghart put it in The Times of London a propos of Zinédine Zidane’s head-butt in the World Cup final: “Walking away from insults isn’t wussy, it’s mature.”

Well, mature to you, dear, but wussy to the guys it’s meant to impress. In the same way, Paul Krugman may think it’s mature to rest content with appearing weak, but to the audience that Mr Kristol has in mind, namely America’s enemies, it’s just weak.

But it is another peculiarity of the liberal mind to be contemptuous of “mere” appearance. I remember a year or so ago a remark by Charles Peña of the Cato Institute to the effect that the war in Iraq “isn’t about national security anymore; it’s about pride and credibility.” As if pride and credibility weren’t the most fundamental assets in the war-chest of national security! The terror of being thought to confuse, as Professor Krugman says the President does, “swagger with strength,” and the consequent stain that such confusion would bring upon the honor of the professorial intellect, is so great that he won’t even allow his country’s enemies to fall into the same confusion, much as it might save us some of the trouble and expense of actually being strong. But then I suppose that, having proved with the aid of today’s most up-to-date academic sophistry and the black arts of psychotherapy that weakness is strength and strength is weakness, he’s bound to have a pretty low opinion of appearances.

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