Martin Peretz’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed is the latest screed to weigh in on the implications of President Obama’s now-infamous “open mic” moment. Peretz, the longtime New Republic editor-in-chief, calls the incident “a moment of political contempt,” and draws from it the lesson that Obama cannot be trusted because he is unwilling to be honest with the American public about his true intentions.
Peretz rattles off a series of areas where he feels that the president has been either weak or less than honest, starting with Russia and missile defense. His other examples include Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. On Iran, he says that Obama’s strong words to AIPAC were merely what the organization “wanted to hear.” Peretz says we can’t know for sure whether Obama is truly committed to using force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
There are two problems with Peretz’s approach. The first is overreaction to the open mic moment itself. As Nikolas Gvosdev wrote here at TNI last week, it is naive “to pretend that foreign policy is always driven by a pure vision of the national interest unconnected to the realities of domestic politics.” Indeed, Washington’s Eastern European allies—those perhaps most on edge about missile defense—seem to understand this better than Peretz. As one Polish legislator commented on Obama’s overheard remark, “This is not surprising or new, and there's no outrage in Poland.”
Then there is Peretz’s questionable policy analysis. His recommendations include taking a harder line toward Moscow and being more willing to strike Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. He also seems to believe the administration should have kept U.S. troops in Iraq past the negotiated 2011 deadline. It is hard not to hear the echoes of the 2003 march to war in Iraq, supported full-throatedly by liberal hawks at Peretz’s New Republic. Indeed, in all of the areas where Peretz says Obama can’t be trusted, his only real suggestions involve more American belligerence and aggression. That approach renders his analysis deeply flawed.