History is indifferent

The rise of Barack Obama is a sign of the indifference of history to the well-being of the United States and, his Nobel Peace Prize to the contrary notwithstanding, the world. If history gave a damn, Barack Obama would still be voting “present” in the Illinois legislature, just to prove his existence to an indifferent universe.

Obama has repeatedly availed himself of the supposed argument from “history” to express his high-minded disapproval of men and events in lieu of doing anything serious about them. In the cases of Putin and Assad, who have suffered the indignity of Obama’s occasional disapproval, history seems to be having the last laugh. What about Obama’s signing the United States on to Team Islamic Republic of Iran under the JCPOA? Obama is jumping on to the wave of the eighth century and taking us closer to the end of history. In this case it won’t have a happy ending. Someone needs to undo what Obama has done.

Eliot Cohen reflects briefly on Obama’s invocation of history (or “History”) in the American Interest column “History doesn’t take sides.” I’m out of free visits to the American Interest site this month and want to memorialize Cohen’s concluding paragraph here while I still have access:

Invoking History is a way of avoiding hard truths. It is a hollow phrase because it is supposed to soothe, not arouse, rally or inform. More importantly, it is simply not true. It presumes that the good guys win. Not always—just ask Rwandans, Cambodians, or surviving family members of Mao’s seventy million victims. Furthermore, the bad guys think the same thing, particularly Marxists, who shortly before their doctrines imploded were supremely confident that they knew in which direction History was marching. In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev famously said to Western ambassadors at a reception in Moscow, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.” What he said next, depending on which translation you prefer, was “We will bury you.” Less than 35 years later, the Soviet empire collapsed into ruin. It was a useful warning for lazy politicians: Believe too strongly that your country has a destiny guaranteed by History, and you may ensure that it doesn’t have much of a future. A public that hears the phrase has a right to be skeptical—and nervous.

Obama’s repeated invocation of history signifies his highly ideologized mind; he is impervious to experience. It partakes of his love of clichés; they are the medium of his thought. And it betrays his contempt for the intelligence of the American people; it is a contempt for which his career has provided ample support.


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