Despite the fact that there was little substantive division between the two candidates allowed into last night’s debate, we might make the false assumption that the only difference was actually cosmetic. That and Governor Romney’s continued radical change in policy from week to week, embracing the very things he condemned in last week’s debate. But that assessment misses one very important difference: the Right’s obsession with bravado.
In making the ridiculous assertion that President Obama has spent the last four years on a worldwide apology tour, an assertion so hyperbolic and juvenile that it can only be a dog whistle to the extremists in his party, Romney is casting the required position of president as not commander-in-chief, but a-hole-in-chief. That the only bargaining position available to our leader is intimidation and forcefulness. This is as dangerous a philosophy as it is foolish.
Going back 98 years, the world entered into the worst war the world has ever known. It is still known as The Great War. Here, we call it WWI and treat it as the prelude to WWII. And we really only care about the parts of that war after Pearl Harbor was bombed. But The Great War began because of bravado and overconfidence.
We learned in school that The Great War was sparked by the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but the most important moment came decades before, in the 1880s. It was then that a new military doctrine was adopted: “mobilization means war”. They also made plans in the event of major European conflict that involved invading France. These simple plans appeared really quite insignificant on the surface. That is until 1914. The rest of the European powers did precisely what they always do. They talked tough. They strutted around. They moved their troops around showing their forces. Of course everyone would come to their senses and back down. We’re all friends. We have mutual social and economic interests. They’ll back down.
Of course they would. Except that 30 years earlier, Germany had quietly redefined those expressions of bravado as an act of war. Therefore their aggression in invading France would be an expression of self-defense.
The problem with painting the presidency into a corner the way Romney has in talking tough, preempting the White House in responding to international crises, talking again about invading Iran, and once again increasing military spending is that this is a one-dimensional military policy. And more to the point, cannot be assured of being understood as an act of a peace-loving country.
To many, particularly those in the Middle East, this tough talk, this false bravado, this belittling our neighbors, this criticism of negotiation and diplomacy, doesn’t just sound like a negotiation tactic. It sounds like a declaration of war.