Published: Good Men Project (July 7, 2015)
American foreign policy has long been governed by ideas of masculinity. Now it’s time to evaluate what that has meant for our nation – and how we should redefine “masculinity” in the future.
Why do we equate “masculinity” with “aggressiveness” when conducting our foreign policy?
“In the aftermath of September 11 Bush enacted a highly masculine ideology through his treatment of the press and emphasis upon two masculine themes–strength and dominance–and that this approach facilitated wide circulation of his masculine discourse in the press.”
Even without summarizing the rest of the article, it isn’t hard to remember the tropes of machismo that Bush demonstrated throughout his presidency: The “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, the cowboy swagger, the retrospectively ironic aircraft carrier landing in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”… all used in the service of waging two wars to avenge a terrorist attack whose perpetrator remained at large (and quite comfortable) in spite of them. Seven years later, when President Obama was being criticized for not using the military to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and various Islamic extremists in the Middle East, his manhood was inevitably drawn into the discussion. This choice quote from conservative columnist David Brooks neatly summed up the thinking (which, he noted, he does not entirely share):
“Let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a — I’ll say it crudely — but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”
To quote President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Cross of Iron speech, which is as relevant today as it was in 1953: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’
Obviously the conduct of foreign policy isn’t a simple matter. Sometimes the line between what threatens us and what merely seems threatening can be very blurry (see the build-up to our involvement in World War II), and now that we’ve become part of an international community (even serving as the host nation to the UN), it would be unrealistic to call for a return to Washington-era isolationism. At the same time, any definition of masculinity worth respecting must promote being responsible with the lives and material resources of other people, just as it cannot countenance acts of bullying.