Coffee House

The need for self-assured American power has never been greater

8 January 2013

The Europeanisation of American politics continues apace with President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defence. Known for his dovish views on Iran, his opposition to the war in Iraq, and scepticism of America’s relationship with Israel, Hagel’s nomination is a contentious one.

Obama’s first term cabinet was a diverse one, with the reappointment of several Bush administration officials including Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Robert Gates as Defence Secretary. It is hard to think of two more sensitive positions for an incoming president given the challenges America faces at home and abroad.

In his second term the president is invariably thinking of his legacy and plans to leave an indelible mark with wide ranging social reforms. None tempts Obama more than the issue of health care reform. His ambitions for the state to play a greater role in subsidising health care provided the mood music for much of his first term, but will take centre stage now.


Funding those plans is a herculean feat with cuts needed everywhere to make them a reality. Budgets across almost every sector have been squeezed as a result, with the defence budget being one of the few to have escaped the pinch so far. Yet, the difficulties of sponsoring welfare reform and maintaining military dominance are axiomatic.

Obama is now preparing himself to confront the defence establishment. He could make his point by highlighting the decline of al-Qaeda, but as the Arab Spring leads towards ever increasing uncertainties, he’ll face stern resistance. What about the influx of arms into the Sahel following Gaddafi’s demise? Or the proliferation of new jihadist organisations in North Africa? And America may yet find itself needing military muscle to stare down both Damascus and Tehran.

These are fears Hagel will be expected to assuage while defence spending is rolled back, a task Secretary of State nominee John Kerry will be expected to help him with.  Together they represent a triumph of the belief that America should approach the world with a light touch. Indeed, so invested are they in the primacy of diplomacy that, like the Owl of Minerva, they believe its wings should spread even at dusk.

That approach, which has a rather preserved-in-amber feel, led Hagel and Kerry to champion the merits of Assad’s Syria just a few years ago. ‘While many doubt Syria’s intentions, we have real leverage and some inducements that have more value to Syria than cost to us’ they wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

With the contours of power still far from settled in the Middle East, the need for self-assured American power has never been greater. American statesmen, typically more sceptical and world-weary than their European counterparts, are not easily seduced by the fashionable ambiguities of ‘inducement’, ‘leverage’, and ‘engagement’. If they can find a way onto the Senate committees needed to approve Obama’s nominations, they may yet have an opportunity to stall these appointments.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • FergalOregan

    Obama = clueless

  • Daniel Maris

    Yep, I think I have decoded Maher’s posting style. You get:

    1. The hook – in the title. It sounds pretty neo-con doesn’t it? – the need to reassert American power. Right wingers will be interested…But in a (Sharia?) court of law Maher can claim he was just stating that it was an objective statement of fact not a recommendation.

    2. Once drawn in though you are subject to a rather confusing array of discouraging information. There seems to be no way out of America’s difficulties…so much confusion…they are becoming European…it’s the President versus the Pentagon…various elements are striving for influence…no one is sure what to do…In this part, it doesn’t really matter what the content is, as long as an impression of danger, risk, dissent, difficulty is conveyed to the reader. It reads a bit like a foreign correspondent’s analysis – but if you take care to read over it a few times you’ll realise it’s nothing of the kind – it’s just sprinkling more and more pepper on the food to make it unpalatable.

    3. Then it’s time to reel you in…Of course the one thing that would be good is if America rejected “dovish” views on Syria…Sounds reasonable to a right winger? Oh, OK…if Maher (come on, he’s a Muslim himself, so if he thinks America is too dovish then it must be) is advising this, surely it must be reasonable for a right winger to agree. Suddenly a desire not to see the Muslim Brotherhood triumph in Syria has become a “dovish” stance. So that’s the next trick – a pavlovian reaction to the word “dovish” – and you find you’re supporting the Syrian Rebels…you know the Alluh Akbar guys, the Muslim Brotherhood…er, otherwise known over here as “THE ENEMY” – the guys who want to tear down what they call our “miserable house”.

    Hope that helps (not that I expect Viceroy to follow all that – he was obviously completely taken in).

    It is appalling though that the Spectator gives space to this nonsense.

    • Tom Tom

      He clearly does not understand US politicts but that is so common in journalism here

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Actually, this blogger blathers on endlessly and ignorantly, sorta like you, son.

      • Daniel Maris

        Viceroy –

        Your attempts at bluster are unconvincing since you posted before me. So the date-stamped evidence is there.

        Anyone can see – looking back at what you posted before me – that you were completely taken in by Maher. Now that you have read my analysis of the Maher style you realise your mistake and see I have accurately deconstructed his posts. But pride makes you reluctant to admit that, hence this pathetic comment with the “sorta like” nonsense.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          You really are ignorant and uneducated, son, and fantastical.

    • Alan A


      I really don’t think you’ve got the faintest handle here of Shiraz’s politics. Not by a long way.

      Difficult to see what you’re suggesting – but if you think he’s covering up for, or promoting, or cheerleading for the MB, you really don’t know the first thing about him. I don’t think I know anybody in the UK who is a more outspoken or effective opponent of Islamist politics. I’ve been at public meetings with him where he has taken them on in one of the most hugely impressive slap downs I’ve ever seen. He’s also one of Britain’s leading campaigners against anti-Jewish hatred.

      What I suspect is going on is this.

      1. You’ve worked out Shiraz is a Muslim

      2. You have a bit of a problem with Muslims, and think they’re up to mischief

      3. You therefore think that everything any Muslim does is part of some great wicked scheme or plot.

      Frankly, you’re a wanker.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, yes, he is a wanker, but so is the Speccie teenager who claims Kerry and Hagel are somehow fresh breaths of “diplomatic” air.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    So let me get this straight. Kerry and Hagel, both of whom enthusiastically voted to invade and occupy Iraq and dump Sadaam Hussein, and supported Obama’s quadrupling of US forces in Afghanistan, prompt you to describe them as follows: “Together they represent a triumph of the belief that America should approach the world with a light touch.” ?

    Do you actually follow politics and world events, or do you make this stuff up as you go along?

    Hagel and Kerry are careerist political hacks, and nothing more. They will go along and get along, as they always have. Hagel has held a place at the public trough for over 40 years, and is purely a creature of Washington. So is Kerry. You seem to have captured a bit of their wishiwashiness, in describing their recent flip flops on Syria, but you don’t seem to get the significance of those flip flops, as being antithetical to your fantasy supposition that they’re somehow all about the “diplomacy”.

    And all the above even before we get to recent Hagel/Kerry support for a bombs-away approach in Libya. Oooooops, guess you missed that one.

    You Speccie teenagers should really open up to the world a bit, and pay attention. You don’t seem to pick up very much, if you are.

    • TomTom

      Nice comment ! I am fascinated to see how Obama intends to hold Turkey together when the Kurds decide their population growth requires a new homeland.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Bombs away, baby!

        That’s the sneaky backdoor route to bombing Teheran, too. You gin up the Kurds, and it gets your foot in the collective door of: Iraq, Syria, Turkey AND Iran. You also retain an option on some of the various ‘Stans, and maybe Georgia and such.

        The Kurds are sort of a one-stop shopping trip.

        • Daniel Maris

          Sadly this juvenalia is a rather obvious sign that you are not well versed in the realities of International Politics and are unlikely to become better educated in this area as you are so woefully ignorant. Never mind.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Maybe I need to get “well versed” on windmills and death panels, then I’d be up to your level.

      • Noa

        Obama will be happy to see the Turks migrate en mass, on accession into the European Union, so creating Kurdish lebensraum.

        The ever supportive Dave of course understands this, from his recent stricture to remain at Rumpoy’s beck and call.

        • TomTom

          Noa, Erdogan is terrified that the Kurds are outbreeding his supporters….…….if I were Putin I would encourage the Kurds and leverage the Syrian situation into a game changer. After all Britain and the USSR invaded Iran in 1941 so Russia might want a friendly border state of Kurdistan

          • the viceroy’s gin

            True enough, but the US has Putin checkmated with the Chechen situation. They’ve been pumping up the Chechens off and on for some years now, as catspaw, and Putin can’t really afford to have those Chechen nutters go off again. And he’s got some Kurds of his own to worry about, quiet as it’s kept. Stalin racially cleansed them, but he didn’t get all of them.

            • Tom Tom

              There are Kurds in Russia who sought refuge from Turkey. Baghdad has appointed a Kurd as Ambassador to Russia to strengthen ties….and Gazprom is key whereas the US is likely to drop allies as it did with Mubarak…..I don’t think Putin is in the weak position

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Well he is weak in that he wants a foothold on the Med, but that appears to be going away now. He’s barely hanging on in the Caucuses, and as I say, he can be brought under pressure quite easily there.

                I’d agree that the Iraqis will beg for capital investment, from Putin or otherwise, but remember, the US appears to be locking up pipeline routes to the West, and the Persian Gulf can close at a moment’s notice. Iraq is kind of twisting in the wind then. They can develop the resources, but getting them out is at somebody else’s discretion.

                You almost have to give the NWO credit here. They figured out a way to screw everybody, all at once. That’s quite an accomplishment.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Sadly you have no idea of the interplay of post-Communist value systems, the hydrocarbon economy, and geopolitical realities. This is probably because you are ignorant of these matters and uneducated in the subject areas.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Perhaps you can educate me and teach me about the “post-Communist value systems” you speak of? That would be most helpful, on some of these matters.

                  Although, as I’ve multiple decades involved with the “hydrocarbon economy”, I’m afraid I’ll have to look elsewhere for additional education in that arena, as you’re ignorant and uneducated re them, whatever your rants.

                • Daniel Maris

                  As you might have said on other threads – if you have to inquire, that is a QED demonstration of your incorrigible ignorance. Further discussion and explication is thus otiose and redundant. :)

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Oh, I’m not inquiring anything of you, son.

                  It’s always best to let you expose your own ignorance and lack of education, as you’re wont to do. That’s what’s “most helpful”.

                • Tom Tom

                  There are apparently 16 Russian warships and Russian Marines sitting off the Syrian coast…..somehow I don’t think Putin is weak and positing anti-aircraft batteries near Turkey sends a message too. I do not think the USA with its terribly small Army has much hope if Egypt decides to get involved and the whole region implodes

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  The Russians have to deploy warships off the Syrian coast, to evacuate their nationals if/when Syria goes over. Same thing happened in Libya. China evacuated over 30,000 of their people, before it flipped, but they have far fewer in Syria.

                  Egypt may get involved in Syria, but it’d likely be anti-Russian in nature, not in favor of them. Egypt and Turkey would be prone to work in concert, and against Russia, if anything.

                  I can’t foresee US troops in Syria, in almost any case (although they’re loading up in Turkey now, if you notice, but more in a defensive role). The NWO appears to be taking a different tack these days.

            • Daniel Maris

              Sadly you’re misinformed about the Chechens but what could one expect given the paucity of your education in this area of inquiry?

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Always welcoming of education, son. Have at it.

                But you best stick clear of matters power engineering and zoological, no matter how fascinated you might be of them.

    • Daniel Maris

      Because you’ve probably never read International Politics at University, your analysis is sadly lacking. :)

      Shiraz doesn’t care about how consistent his articles with the realities – he is concerned with how much they are consistent with his purpose.

      And I say (after seeing how he works in his several previous articles) his purpose here is firstly to further the cause of the rebels in Syria (the next major domino), however subtly, and secondly to – as usual – just liberally sow doubts and dissension here and there. A typical tactic.

      • Noa

        Well reminded Daniel. CHrs should acquaint themselves with Maher’s blog and views to understand his position and the reservations they may wish to place on his perspectives.

  • Hexhamgeezer


    But big smiles all round from our enemies.

    • David Lindsay


      • Austin Barry

        Lindsay, don’t be obtuse or disingenuous. The West has just one Hydra-headed enemy.

        (You are though to be congratulated on the one word post.)

        • David Lindsay

          Is Ba’athist Syria one of the heads of this hydra? Presumably, since Ba’athist Iraq was. Is North Korea?

          Thank God that there is never going to be another President of the United States who thinks like that, complete with the definition of “the West” as a State founded on the mass expulsion of its territory’s ancient indigenous Christians. One such POTUS was bad enough.

          We have so far endured three, or two and a half, such Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. But no more after 2015. Thank God.

          • Daniel Maris

            To the extent that they hate democracy and free societies yes they are all heads of the hydra.

            • David Lindsay

              Thank God that there is never going to be another President of the United States who thinks in that adolescent way. Or another such Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once this one has gone.

              • Daniel Maris

                What? – it’s adolescent to think that non-democrats hate democrats? Do you want me to give you a list?

                All Popes up until c 1950


                Ho Chi Min
                Saddam Hussein
                Ayatollah Kohmeini
                Osama bin Laden

                They all hated democracy, tried/;try to prevent its introduction into territories they control and seek to subvert democratic nations.

                That is clear-eyed realism, not adolescent dreaming (which you seem to be indulging in).

                Or are you saying some of these people were/are not the sworn enemies of democrats?

      • Hexhamgeezer


        • David Lindsay

          Very many thanks.

  • Noa

    An increasingly remote and dsfunctional United States blinks nervously, as it prepares to exit the world’s stage and bankrupt its wealth creators to pay for Obama’s self-aggrandisement.

  • David Lindsay

    This week’s centenary of the birth of Richard
    Nixon is splendidly marked by the nomination of Chuck Hagel.

    Confirmed or not, that
    nomination in itself makes it clear that Obama’s America will have no
    part in any war against Iran.

    The party of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, even
    Reagan in many ways, Jim Baker and the Congressional opponents of
    Clinton’s wars lives and thrives.

    On the other side of aisle.

    And in the
    White House.

    • arnoldo87

      While you are on line, why not give us your assessment of the non-intervention in Syria to date?
      60,000 dead, Assad still in power, infrastructure in ruins, sectarian strife, increasing Russian involvement, existence of WMD and their possible use.
      Do you know when the Lancet body count estimates will appear? When the million strong march takes place in London? When the left-wing intelligentsia will start to critique the war?

      • David Lindsay

        Still better than the alternative.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here