Townsend: Time to Start Being Polite, and Start Getting Vague and Hawkish


I’m reading Julian Zelizer’s Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security and one thing it makes really clear is that nothing quite beats the exuberance of the out of power hawk. The in-power hawk has a real problem—his policy prescriptions might actually be followed, so he needs to frame them in some detail and take responsibility for when they fail. In large part for this reason, hawks consistently found themselves disappointed with Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all of whom when actually in office tended to eschew the kind of hyper-brinksmanship with the Soviet Union that the right preferred. Under George W Bush, of course, the hawks got their way and the adverse consequences helped discredit the entire conservative political movement.

But Frances Fragos Townsend, a key homeland security official in the failed, discredited, incompetent, and unpopular administration of George W Bush wants to get the party started again:

The United States and Saudi Arabia have poured money and counterterrorism resources — military, intelligence and law enforcement — into Yemen. But after nearly a decade the American people are understandably fed up. The Obama administration needs to take a clear, tough line with Yemen: Take care of the terrorism problem within your borders so you are no longer a threat to the United States and our allies in the region, or allow the international community to come in and clean it up for you. The time for polite diplomacy is long past.

Andrew Samwick wants to laugh. My first instinct is to cry. What on earth does this mean? I suppose the important thing is that it (a) sounds tough, and (b) involves accusing her partisan political rivals of being soft and untough. But is excessive politeness really the reason Barack Obama hasn’t threatened a full-scale invasion of Yemen unless the Yemeni government undertakes unspecified measures to “take care of the terrorist problem”?

It seems to me that just 18 months ago the President was one George W Bush, a discredited and unpopular figure who liked to go out of his way to be rude to foreign countries, and even there these tactics weren’t being employed. Why? Well because when the right was in power a “Yemen hawk” inside the administration would have had to say what, exactly, she wanted done and what the risks and tradeoffs might be. But from an out of power perspective, it’s party time. On to Yemen!