Col. Ralph Peters, a military analyst for Fox News, caused a bit of a stir yesterday when he reacted to President Obama’s Sunday night speech on terrorism by calling the president a “total pussy.” The polite world of national politics was, of course, aghast that someone would use such vulgar language when talking about the president on TV. There hasn’t been a scandal of this sort since Mark Halperin called Obama “a dick” on MSNBC a few years back, which means Obama now owns the dubious honor of being labeled both a “dick” and a “pussy” by dumb pundits on cable news. But pearl-clutching over this locker-room talk obscures the larger question raised by Peters’ rant.
Is Barack Obama, in fact, a pussy?
This is a difficult but important question to answer, given that much of the conservative and Republican criticism of the president with regard to ISIS dances around this idea without explicitly stating it as Peters has. Often you’ll see a Republican accuse Obama of conducting a “politically correct war,” or hear someone remark that Obama isn’t tough enough with terrorists. These are all long-winded ways of calling him a “pussy,” and they are at the heart of the Republican and conservative critique of the anti-ISIS campaign. So let’s try and figure out what Peters is talking about.
The metrics for determining pussyship are fluid and uncertain. We can assume that Peters’ usage of the word was obviously meant to convey that he considers Obama to be a coward and/or a weakling. This supposition is supported by some of Peters’ previous commentaries on the president, in which he has called Barack Obama “just not manly,” and a “bitchy high-school girl.” We can also glean from Peters’ commentary that he has an affinity for authority figures who exhibit stereotypically masculine behaviors, like Vladimir Putin, whom Peters has praised as a leader. However, Peters seems to exhibit some confusion on this point, as he’s referred to the Obama administration as “Stalinist,” which in practice was a very un-pussylike ideology. Peters has also accused Obama himself of associating with “tough Chicago guys” and having “a massive Third World chip on his shoulder,” which would suggest a certain degree of pugnaciousness. This contradiction afflicts a great many conservatives, who see in Obama simultaneously both a feckless wimp and an authoritarian despot.
So already we’re muddled on the question of whether Peters actually believes Obama merits being insulted in this way. Perhaps a better approach is to examine the case laid out by Peters as he was referring to Obama as a “pussy.” Here’s what he said on Fox News:
PETERS: And, you know, we want – we the people, the American people, whom he does not know in any intimate sort of manner, we want action. We want action against Islamic State and then – then, when the president is telling us he is going to destroy ISIS. This is a president who has done more harm to American police departments than he has done to Islamic State. This is a president who restrains our military. He uses it not to defeat ISIS, but for political purposes for political cover. This is a president who doesn't want to hurt our enemies. This is a president who cares more about thugs in Guantanamo, or thugs in Ferguson, Missouri, than he does about law-abiding American citizens and their right to live in safety and peace.
I could break this all down piece by piece, but really there’s no need. Saying that the American people “want action against the Islamic State” implies that Obama has not been acting against the terrorist group, which is false. Per the Defense Department, the U.S. has conducted nearly 6,700 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. It’s true that airstrikes alone are not enough to “destroy” the Islamic State, but they’ve certainly helped to degrade it. That one fact alone pretty well dismantles every other argument he mustered when making the case for the “pussy” designation, unless the Defense Department has somehow covertly been bombing police stations all this time.
And it’s not entirely clear what Peters would consider a “manly” use of military resources. I would imagine that he, like a great many conservatives, sees the commitment of ground forces and a long, protracted, bloody occupation as the “manly” path forward, even if it is a proven recipe for disaster. But the man whose leadership qualities and vision he admires, Vladimir Putin, is similarly limiting his engagement with the terrorist group to airstrikes (when he’s not bombing anti-Assad rebels and Turkish aid convoys, of course).
So the case for calling Obama a “pussy” is weak and wracked with internal contradiction. And since Peters’ critique embodies so much of the conservative conventional wisdom about ISIS and the president, it seems only fair to turn the question around and ask: What do we call Ralph Peters?
“Sociopath” strikes the right note but feels a little too DSM-IV for my taste, a bit too clinical. “Bloodthirsty degenerate” is also in the correct area of the ballpark, but it’s a little rough and lacks joy. “Impotent crank who finds solace from the crushing frustrations of his wasted existence by going on cable news and boasting that his penis is bigger than the president’s” is a little too on-the-nose. As in the fight with ISIS, there is no perfect answer here, but I think “lunatic assclown” captures his essence well while also imbuing a pleasingly whimsical flair to the proceedings.