“There is no alternative,” Margaret Thatcher’s defining phrase, is coming soon to a theater near you, on the lips of Meryl Streep, in a new biopic on the former British Prime Minister, Iron Lady. Now, a Conservative British politician from the 1980's might not seem the likeliest subject for a feature film, but maybe J. Edgar, the life of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, has warmed up an audience. And in any case, the film seems timely in that Thatcher’s favorite concept, one which she voiced often enough to get its own acronym – TINA, will be a (mostly unspoken) theme of next year’s American presidential election campaign, albeit with a different twist than the Iron Lady’s.
For Thatcher, in her day something of a harder edged, more intellectual European counterpart to Ronald Reagan, the non-existent alternative was economic: You may not think the economic system is just or fair, but it is reality and your ideas aren’t, so deal with it. Happily, we won’t get consensus on that in the presidential race, if only because the 99 percent campaigns have guaranteed at least lip service to the idea of economic alternatives. TINA will come to America, rather, in the realm of foreign and military policy. By the time the Republicans pick their man to go against the President, if you’re not a fan of war with no clear end in sight, you’re going to be out of luck. There will be no alternative – except, maybe, for even more war.
The President’s handlers will offer Janus-like, Man of Peace/Man of War foreign policy profiles. For the base, Obama will be the man who got us out of Iraq and is getting us out of Afghanistan. Of course, Obama didn’t actually negotiate the Iraq withdrawal – George Bush did, and at a pace faster than advocated by candidate Obama (who called it a “dumb war” as a state legislator but voted to fund it as a U.S. Senator.) To ignore this fact, well, we might look at it as just a bit of standard, garden variety campaign puffery. But trying to make the President out as a man of peace for withdrawing troops that he himself sent to Afghanistan, that’s some chutzpah. Not that we should be surprised in that – Obama has always mixed his withdrawal plans with his escalation realities. The only surprising part is that some people are buying it.
You got a problem with that? Well, check out the Republican candidates – they want a bigger, better, longer war. And yeah, Obama might not really withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan by 2014, but the Republicans aren’t even going to claim they intend to. Do you see reality yet? There is no alternative.
Meanwhile, the President can ask the other side,“What target have I failed to bomb?” Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya – George Bush couldn’t match that list. (And done without Bush’s smirk and swagger, so the rest of the world might even like us better.) Plus, this Administration has chipped away at another bit of the Vietnam Syndrome – you know that annoying, defeatist idea that we should have to demonstrate just cause for attacking another country. It’s established a president’s right to bomb any country he wants without Congressional approval, so long as no American is hurt in the process. You liberals like the “no American hurt” part, don’t you?
And, if it’s visionary thinking you want, we’re stationing troops in Australia so they’ll be that much closer to China, our enemy of the future. Stationing troops in Australia! You think that fuddy duddy McCain would have thought of that? Nah, the peace candidate has proved himself a master of war. But don’t you liberals forget that things could get worse. A lot of these Republicans want to bomb Iran, you know. Get the idea yet? TINA. TINA.
Of course, at the moment, there actually is an alternative take on foreign policy still out there – Ron Paul’s. But the libertarian Republican Texas Congressman is pretty much in an ideological cul-de-sac – Republicans won’t buy his foreign policy and Democrats won’t buy his domestic politics. These days, anybody on the left who might sympathize with his foreign policy views is being pounded with reminders of his stateside ideas. And rightly so. The man opposes Social Security, Medicare, gay and abortion rights legislation and a lot of other things people should know about.
Unfortunately, however, the scrupulous reckoning does not seem to go both ways. For instance, the President and, in particular, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are getting a lot of love lately for declaring gay rights to be human rights. And, again, quite justifiable. Yet the same people praising Clinton are quite silent about her role as enabler of the President’s cynical Afghanistan policy. And if “cynical” seems too strong a word, try this: Ask an Administration supporter how the expenditure of life and resources involved in three or more additional years of war is going to bring about a more “favorable” resolution than exists today – you can let them pick their own definition of “favorable” – and see if you get a plausible answer. Or, we might ask what the great State Department human rights advocate has to say about the case of Bradley Manning.
But you know how it is: Clinton has to go along with those things. Obama has to do those things. There’s no alternative, really. War is the price other people pay for our presidents to get elected.