President Barack Obama’s impotent approach to the international crises proliferating around the globe has resulted in a bipartisan barrage of criticisms directed at him and his administration, and it’s all getting to be just too much to handle for Obama’s remaining supporters.
The latest to offend the sensibilities of those for whom the Islamic State is a threat only to our ability to craft convincing moral equivalencies for their abhorrent acts is New Jersey governor and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie. According to a report from New York Times journalist and Christie tracker Michael Barbaro, the governor had the temerity recently to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin would think twice before testing his resolve in the same way he is forever testing our current commander-in-chief.
“I don’t believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment,” Christie said of Putin’s brazen revanchism and military land grabs in Europe. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
Barbaro is sure to let the reader know that this impractical display of bravado repulsed the urbane and erudite crowd who attended the confidential meeting of Republican activists where Christie spoke.
“One attendee described Mr. Christie’s answer as disturbingly heavy on swagger and light on substance,” Barbaro reported. “Another called it ‘uncomfortable to watch.’”
Shockingly, the reaction expressed by these two Republican activists precisely mirrored the reactions of liberal columnists and MSNBC commentators. Serendipity!
Writing on what he considered Christie’s “gaffe,” The New Republic’s Brian Beutler determined that Christie had declared his intention as president to violate Obama’s one and only rule: “Don’t do stupid s**t.”
“Say what you will about the tenets of not doing ‘stupid s**t,’ at least it’s an ethos,” Beutler wrote, in an homage to The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak. “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, by contrast, appears to have taken his organizing foreign policy principle from Travis Bickle.”
Ah, movies. Only in Hollywood, you see, does Christie-esque — let’s call it ‘audacity’ — suffice as a foreign policy. Well, in movies and in the Kremlin, too. But only those Neanderthals without a degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School would consider this a deliberative approach to foreign affairs.
Beutler was not alone in scoffing at Christie’s attempt to strike a contrast with Obama. MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts observed that the true test of our time is the fact that the governor of the Garden State does not have a coherent policy to address Russia’s six-month-old invasion of its European neighbor.
“When he’s in Trenton, that swagger works,” Joe Scarborough said. “Outside of Trenton, you get him on foreign policy, he gets in trouble.”
“Outside of that comfort zone, a lot of people are saying it’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” the host said of Christie’s understanding of nuanced foreign affairs.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s resident foreign policy expert, described Christie’s display of “braggadocio” as a “kind of tough guy attitude” though “not necessarily a foreign policy.”
On her program, The Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart noted that The New York Times made it perfectly clear exactly how the reader should feel about Christie’s remarks. He dutifully repeated Barbaro’s conclusions. “Folks want to hear the substance and it’s clear governor Christie doesn’t have the substance yet,” Capehart said.
These are not entirely unfair criticisms. Christie has spent a fair amount of time with Republican foreign policy heavyweights like Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger in the effort to bone up on global affairs. But Christie has time to learn the specifics. The president, meanwhile, has had five years to learn on the job how the world works, and it is unclear that he has internalized any of the many lessons he has been taught while in office.
In the meantime, a little bravado is not such an unwelcome thing. As the Islamic State’s beheading campaign has revealed, the American intelligentsia’s quest to redefine American foreign policy as expressly anti-George W. Bush has also sacrificed moral clarity.
The ISIS threat has cleared the post-Iraq War hangover, and America is once again warming to necessary military interventions abroad. The universal squeals from the center-left press over Christie’s comments suggests they fear that the public may also miss seeing a little old fashioned American swagger in the Oval Office.