John Podhoretz responds with alarm to this account of how Barack Obama “bridled at the sometimes mindless rituals and one-upmanship of a national political campaign” and “resented the pressure he felt to declare, as he put it to Newsweek, that you ‘want to bomb the hell out of someone’ to show toughness on terrorism.”
I pray this sentence is a misrepresentation of what Obama meant, because if it is accurate, we have just elected a president who resents and resists the idea that a terrorist attack on the United States or its interests in the wake of 9/11 requires a military response if one is possible.
Of course, this was not a considered remark, not policy. But it may be an extraordinarily revealing glimpse into Obama’s gut feelings about these matters — that justifiable retaliation is nothing more than a psychologically satisfying act, a fulfillment of a primal revenge hunger, “wanting to bomb the hell out of someone.”
It seems to me that Podhoretz is bending over backward to miss the point here. Assuming that the sentence is accurate, it’s pretty obvious that what Obama “resents and resists” is not the idea of a military response to terrorism, it’s the idea that dumb, macho grandstanding is a good response to terrorism. It is unfortunately the case that campaigning in the 24-hour news cycle tends to favor just that sort of grandstanding, often at the expense of more responsible and nuanced discussions of national security policy. This is true of discussions of a lot of policy issues during campaigns, of course, but it’s really only the national security issue that lends itself to promises to bomb the hell out of people.
What’s actually revealing, I think, is how sensitive Podhoretz is on this score. After all, psychologically satisfying martial ejaculations of this sort have long been neoconservatism’s stock in trade. They are also the closest that Podhoretz and his ilk will ever get to engaging in actual combat, and so he resents the implication — correct, as it happens — that hyper-nationalistic exhortations to violence do not represent “toughness,” let alone represent effective anti-terrorism policy.