One of the weirder spectacles of the past few years has been the enthusiasm for psychotic displays of violence shown by middle-aged pundits with no personal military experience. Here, for instance, is Tom Friedman, the tremendously influential New York Times columnist, explaining the Iraq war in 2003:

I think it [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing


We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big state right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.


What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?” You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow?

Well. Suck. On. This.


That … was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

It was a reiteration of a meme popular in the first half of the Bush years, a slightly more florid rendition of what right-wing pundit Jonah Goldberg admiringly called the “Ledeen Doctrine”. That is, Michael Ledeen, one of the key intellectuals behind the Bush administration, supposedly explained to the American Enterprise Institute that: “Every 10 years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

In both versions, the theory’s explicitly gangsterish, the mindset of a mafia don breaking the leg of some hapless grocer. Yes, the poor schmuck might be behind on his protection money, but you do him over less to recoup those specific payments than because a good beating communicates something to the rest of the neighbourhood.

Sociopathic? Utterly. But leaving aside the politics of urging the sole superpower to run the world like a standover racket, there’s something utterly creepy about Friedman, p-rn star moustache abristle, taking such obvious pleasure in telling Iraqis to suck on things at gunpoint.

In that, however, Tom of Washington’s not alone.

This morning in The Australian , Greg Sheridan explains Obama’s key task as only Sheridan can. The President must, it transpires, make the world fear him.

“At some point,” he tells us, “Obama is going to have to do something seriously unpleasant to someone.”

Already, you can sense a lascivious tingle working its way up Sheridan’s leg as he imagines the world leader abandoning girlish concerns about climate change for the real business of dishing out punishments.

And that’s before our columnist starts imagining a President all dressed in leather.

Yes, leather. You see, for Sheridan, US politics should be understood in terms of the crappy ’50s sitcom Happy Days . Naturally, Obama’s the twink Richie Cunningham: he is, Sheridan says, “clean-cut, wholesome, an absolute goody-goody”. That’s a bad thing, obviously. Who wants goody-goody Richie when you can have the Fonz!

“Greased-back hair, always astride his outlaw motorbike, decked out in Marlon Brando T-shirt, Fonzie inspired fear and envy in men, and swoons among the gals.”

Be still, oh beating heart!

But, Sheridan explains, Fonzie’s not just the best President ever because he looks as good on his Harley as George Bush did on that aircraft carrier. No, “Fonzie” Fonzarelli understands what Obama Cunningham doesn’t — the importance of hitting people.

“You cannot imagine a deeper strategic insight,” says Sheridan.

Well, one supposes, it’s a progression, of a sort: if it was “suck on it” in 2003, we’ve moved to “sit on it” in 2009.

But, really: is this funny, sad or scary?

Everything that’s happened over the past six years — the mounds of corpses, the wars raging without end — and the manifold crises we face now, yet the foreign editor of our sole national paper still dreams of a President who’s a leather-clad bad boy.

It gets harder and harder to mourn the imminent death of print journalism.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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