Thanks, warmongers! “Idealism” is now a meaningless concept

If hawks like George Bush, Paul Wolfowitz and Susan Rice are called "idealists," what are Bradley Manning and MLK?

Topics: idealism, Elites, Susan Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, Bradley Manning, Martin Luther King, Jr., Editor's Picks,

Thanks, warmongers! "Idealism" is now a meaningless conceptPaul Wolfowitz, Susan Rice, George W. Bush (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Devra Berkowitz/Reuters/Jason Reed)

A short-but-gushing profile of Susan Rice appeared in the New York Times this weekend. The piece, written by Mark Landler and titled, “Thrust Into Nonstop Turmoil, an Obama Adviser Counsels Pragmatism,” is ostensibly about how Rice, the tortured idealist, has admirably reined in her raving idealistic tendencies in order to strike a more appropriately sober, “pragmatic” approach as ambassador to the United Nations. Advocating caution with respect to the situation in Egypt is presented as only the most recent example of Rice’s newfound pragmatism.

This is a classic construct in establishment discourse, particularly when it comes to foreign policy: “idealism” or “pragmatism.” On college campuses, it’s taught as “liberal internationalism” vs. “realism,” but it’s essentially the same dichotomy, and that dichotomy is this: there are Good, Noble American officials who want to save everyone, everywhere, and then there are other, no less Good and Noble American officials who are a bit more measured, and (regretfully) resign themselves to the reality that America’s power is limited and we should probably just pursue our own interests.

Basically, what elites mean by “idealist” is someone who is very enthusiastic about putting other people’s lives at risk all over the world in pursuit of allegedly humanitarian aims, with said aims often being highly dubious, hypocritically conceived, and practically impossible.

Who is an example of a dedicated “idealist” in official Washington? David Ignatius, effectively the government spokesman at the Washington Post, once called Paul Wolfowitz the “idealist in chief” of the Bush administration. Some people might think the unrepentant intellectual architect of a war of aggression that ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings for no reason at all could accurately be described as a sociopath; in Newspeak, he’s an “idealist.” (Ignatius, of course, describes the attack on Iraq as “the most idealistic war in modern times.”)

Wolfowitz isn’t even an “idealist” in the ludicrous sense that Ignatius meant it, either (i.e., fanatically opposed to tyranny anywhere and everywhere): he was an enthusiastic supporter of General Suharto, the astonishingly brutal dictator of Indonesia, who slaughtered an untold number of people while receiving crucual U.S. backing and approval. As Reagan’s ambassador to Indonesia, Wolfowitz expressed great admiration for the “strong and remarkable leadership” of this genocidal tyrant.

Susan Rice expressed unequivocal support for the attack on Iraq. It quenched her thirst for war – not in the sense that she volunteered to actually participate, of course – that had been building up for many years. This idealist is more than intrigued any time any kind of military violence is proposed. As Benjamin Friedman wrote in a November 2012 piece for U.S. News & World Report, Rice, “has supported just about every proposed U.S. military intervention over the last two decades.” Her answer to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, of course, was to drop bombs there; she defended this proposal by citing the wildly successful bombing campaign in Kosovo. The modern idealist, apparently, argues for bombing people on the grounds that bombing other people went so spectacularly well.

Rice discovered her inner-hawk following the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the U.S.’s failure to do anything to stop it. Is increased support for militarism, though, really the lesson that an “idealist” would take from Rwanda?

And, once again, Rice is not even an idealist on these quite twisted grounds (i.e., wanting to attack and overthrow every dictator on the planet, or stop every humanitarian disaster with military force). She has a sordid and well-documented history of support for horrible African autocrats, and one sincerely doubts that she’ll be waging any kind of moral crusade from within the Obama administration against the Saudi Kingdom – the most repressive regime in the Middle East – any time soon (there’s that pragmatism again). And, as Ray McGovern pointed out in a December 2012 piece arguing against Rice’s potential nomination to secretary of state, her alleged idealism does not, strangely, translate into sympathy for the suffering and oppressed people of Gaza; Rice has “ignored the misery” there for her entire career.

“Idealism” is a great word with an honorable history. Traditionally, the term has invoked thoughts of young college students who want to make the world a better place, or great activists and movement leaders who believed they could achieve the impossible. Bradley Manning represents a perfect example of real, non-Orwellian idealism at work: someone who, at tremendous personal risk, exposed moral horrors that he thought citizens of the world should know about, in the hope that it might bring about enlightenment and change. But Bradley Manning is not representative of elites’ conception of idealism. Now, this term is reserved for cheerleaders for death and destruction, like Wolfowitz and Rice.

It’s also bestowed on outright war criminals; Tony Blair found himself in awe of George W. Bush’s “true idealism.” When a single term is employed by a significant number of people to describe both both Bradley Manning and George Bush, both Martin Luther King and Paul Wolfowitz, said term has obviously lost all of its meaning. Maybe the “pragmatic” thing to do would be to just accept the loss of this formerly meaningful and inspirational word.

Justin Doolittle is a freelance writer based on Long Island, New York. You can follow him on Twitter  @JD1871.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...