Tag: David Brooks

Hello, hoist. Meet petard. Oh, you already know each other?

David Brooks always styled himself as a member of the conservative intellectual vanguard. He would much rather be an observer of “real people” than to actually dirty his hands at playing milkmaid in his own Hameau de la reine.

But David Brooks has recently come to a stunning realization: To borrow a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “you might be a member of the East Coast elite if… you have a column in The New York Times, are a regular commentator on the NEWSHOUR, and like to drop names like Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk.”

Now, fearing that he might be among the first against the wall when the revolution comes, Brooks fearlessly condemns the tenor of a McCain-Palin campaign likely to go down in flames.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.

Poor David. He thought only his friends would be led to the guillotine. So he did his best to fan the flames of the culture war–but always in a soothing tone befitting a “conservative intellectual.”

Brooks assumed that the rabble was both virtuous and stupid. After all, he wagered, how could anyone smart actually believe the steady stream of transparent propaganda his team puts out on Fox News and Talk Radio? But Brooks was wrong. The Christian soldiers aren’t stupid. They may not know the difference between Russel Kirk and John Rawls–which Brooks should have recognized might be a problem for his ilk–but they have more than enough sense to recognize that anyone who teaches a course at Yale and “pals around” with Ivory Tower socialists is definitely not one of them (unless covered by the “Supreme Court Exception”).

Now Brooks can sense it all slipping away. He has to choose between two nightmares: the triumph of Obama, himself a liberal intellectual, or of McCain, who might not be able (or live long enough) to hold back the anti-intellectual tide.

But, despite the facts staring him in the face, Brooks still imagines this is all some sort of mistake, and that it will all be sorted out soon. “We just got a little too caught up in our attacks on Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry,” he thinks to himself. “When the adults take back control of the Republican party, I can return to business as usual and attack liberal intellectuals and East Coast elites with impunity.”

That’s why he can’t admit the whole truth: Sarah Palin is “smart [and] politically skilled,” but her debate performance was not “impressive” and, more to the point, she doesn’t write those speeches that “relentlessly [divide] the world between the ‘normal Joe Sixpack American’ and the coastal elite.”

Coastal elites, whether native or naturalized, do.

Brooks has met the enemy, and the enemy is David Brooks.

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David Brooks, dont’cha think?

David Brooks has an Alanis Morisette moment (except this one really is ironic):

But he has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of saccharine show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark. His words drift far from reality, and not only when talking about the Senate Banking Committee. His Berlin Victory Column treacle would have made Niebuhr sick to his stomach.

Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.

But when it comes down to it, Brooks is just being lazy with this column (maybe he had to substitute for Krugam on short notice).

Much of the rest of the speech fed the illusion that we could solve our problems if only people mystically come together. We should help Israelis and Palestinians unite. We should unite to prevent genocide in Darfur. We should unite so the Iranians won’t develop nukes. Or as Obama put it: “The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

The pronoun “we” in these sentences, of course, refers to the United States, Germany, and (sometimes) Europe. In other words, The “we” is the transatlantic alliance. Obama’s speech is about the need to repair the rift between the United States and Europe in order to confront grave international problems, a great many of which involve global public goods. Of course he’s going to focus on shared concerns. What does Brooks expect, that he’s going to play “Old Europe” against “New Europe”? That he’s going to tell the European’s to “put up or shut up”? Kennedy gave his speech during the Cold War, when American troops and nuclear weapons defended Europe from the Soviet bloc.

I find it particularly ironic that, on a trip where Obama stressed the threat of Iranian proliferation, and called upon that country to accept the European proposal for ending uranium enrichment, Brooks wants to claim the terrain of “realistic” foreign policy. Indeed, Obama’s call to enhance Cooperative Threat Reduction might be “unobjectionable,” but Brooks might want to let the Bush administration know that. It’s alternated between neglecting the program and trying to cut it.

It is doubly ironic that, while Obama’s trip to Europe focused on rebuilding the greatest democratic alliance in history, Brooks thinks nattering on about whether or not the great dialectic of history has ended is somehow a breath of cold, hard political reality:

Since then, autocracies have arisen, the competition for resources has grown fiercer, Russia has clamped down, Iran is on the march. It will take politics and power to address these challenges, the two factors that dare not speak their name in Obama’s lofty peroration.

Post-trotskyites of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your primary contradictions.

Of course, I doubt that Brooks really cares whether or not his column makes any sense. The right’s decided that one of their major lines of attack against Obama is that he’s a naive hippie (note the “acid” reference; how droll).

The fact that the tactics is old enough to belong on K-Tel’s “Greatest Hits of the Republican Party: Forty Years of Campaigning” album doesn’t really matter. As far as Brooks and his colleagues are concerned, it’s tried and true. So he does what any loyal conservative OP-ED writer does: shout it from the rooftops, and hope it sticks.

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Why the Pentagon Can’t win the Long War

David Brooks, in his Sunday NYT column (requires Times Select to read), gives out awards for great magazine articles of the year. He recognizes two outstanding articles on how the Pentagon is fighting in Iraq and terrorism. In his article, Brooks makes a fundamental and vital insight that needs to become part of the emerging Grand Strategy Debate.*Brooks writes:

There was also a sense that we were losing ground in Iraq. One of the best magazine writers on that story, George Packer of The New Yorker, tended to profile American dissidents who were trying to change the way we fight that war.

In an April essay, “The Lesson of Tal Afar,” Packer followed Col. H. R. McMaster, who argued that the Iraq war was as much a psychological and anthropological problem as a military and political one. Then, in December, his “Knowing the Enemy” appeared, about freethinkers in the Pentagon and elsewhere who were studying how Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents create narratives that demoralize their enemies, energize believers and create a sense of historical momentum.

One gets the feeling from his articles that America’s enemies are playing a different game. They’re waging an open-source campaign for cultural symbols, while we’re oblivious to anything we can’t drive over or kill.

Spot on, David Brooks. This is, perhaps, the single biggest reason that “more troops” cannot and will not “fix” Iraq. Its why Hezbollah is gaining power in Lebanon even after a major military defeat. Its why the US military can win each and every tactical encounter with Iraqi Insurgents and yet still lose the war. Its why the war in Afghanistan is no longer “won.” “Knowing the Enemy” is particularly insightful on this account, spending lots of time talking about why the Pentagon needs more Anthropologists.

It also suggests why Patrick’s point about Drezner’s point is rather insightful. All of these grand strategies are motivated by underlying theories of International Politics. They, however, must now encounter a world where the threats they purport to address also have grand strategies, Constructivist Strategies. For example, Lynch reveals Al Queda’s constructivist turn. Drezner suggests Iran’s constructivist gambit. These actors, and others are and will continue to create discourses that make sense of US power and military actions in ways rather detrimental to achieving the intended outcome of those actions. For any of these US grand strategies to “work” they must contain a component that creates a narrative of how US grand strategy works, successfully, and tell that story as the US goes about its foreign policy. That was the Cold War. See Patrick’s book for the full story.

This also suggests a significant and perhaps vital “policy relevance” for an entire vein of constructivist and post-structural scholarship emerging in International Relations, and reveals the potential seeds of failure of realist and liberal-institutionalist policy advice.

*One aside, the Cold War was often conceived as a war of ideas– Capitalism vs. Communism– and as a result, the US invested heavily in cultural exchanges, funding scholarship, and USIA and lots of other things to produce the discursive space in which the grand strategy of containment made sense. Compare with how the Bush Administration is fighting the GWOT–homeland security, intelligence, military. The war of ideas element is given a lot of lip service, but generally ignored. When was the last time you saw Karen Hughes do anything at all, let alone anything interesting?

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