Krauthammer – Pillar of Wisdom
Charles Krauthammer's erudition and independence of mind puts almost all commentators in the mainstream British media to shame. He deserves to be more widely read in the UK
In the Internet Age we can access with ease the best that has been thought and said. Few think or talk better than American political commentator Charles Krauthammer. If you don’t already do so, be sure to adopt the habit of reading Krauthammer’s columns and watching his videos, most easily available at National Review Online.
Krauthammer makes most British commentators seem juvenile. His learning and clarity of thought lead to insight and brevity of expression.
Here he is, for example, destroying Obama’s naivety over the Ukraine:
“Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.” This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.”
He is an informer rather than a performer. Not for Krauthammer the “more radical or compassionate than thou” posturing of the Guardianista hereditary caste of pundits. He takes the trouble to understand historical and political challenges and as a consequence speaks because he has something to say, not because he has a column to file.
Consider this article on the Gaza crisis. Krauthammer does not condescend to the Palestinians by treating them as a homogenous bloc. He describes the various factions and ambitions within the Palestinian and wider Arab world and elucidates the power play by Hamas against its rivals.
He explains why moderate Arab opinion is against Hamas, and highlights how useful idiots in the West have been played like a fiddle in the interests of Arab extremism.
Though empathetic to the challenges faced by the Israeli leadership and mindful of the interests of moderate Arabs, Krauthammer’s main concern at all times is the American interest. That is how it should be.
Such nuance and understanding is almost absent from mainstream British media commentary on the Middle East, with a few honourable exceptions such as Roger Boyes and Mark Urban.
Global responsibilities bring a global perspective. Krauthammer achieves a moral seriousness in part because he is informing the political class of a hyperpower – a class that can bend global events to its will.
Krauthammer’s early adulthood was spent as a Democrat. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he began his political career writing for the left-wing New Republic and speech writing for Walter Mondale. Now he is perhaps the centre-right’s most accomplished commentator.
It is tempting to argue that, like many of the best conservative writers, Krauthammer moved from left to right as he got to know more about how the world works.
But Krauthammer says the Democrats left him, and not vice versa. He was a great admirer of Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, a Democrat Cold War realist who saw the threat posed to Western values by the Soviet Union. As time passed Krauthammer saw that such clarity of vision was losing ground among the Democrats and so the sagacious and the silly parted company.
Krauthammer first attracted wide attention as a realist in the 1980s when he coined the term the “Reagan Doctrine”, under which strategy the US did not merely “contain” the USSR but instead sought to test and weary the Communist Empire through proxy mini wars.
Krauthammer also first articulated the concept of a post-Cold War “Unipolar Moment”; a few decades of US hegemony where the US could shape events substantially by acting unilaterally. Whether the US uses such power wisely (or at all, in Obama’s case) is of course a matter for the elected politicians.
It would be wrong to see Krauthammer as a party man. On social issues he has a liberal streak. Well travelled and well read, he is not about to hitch his reputation to a party line.
But nor is he a rogue eccentric. On the question of “settled (climate) science”, for example, Krauthammer is typically reasoned, rigorous and right.
Krauthammer is at his best in TV interviews. He can expound his views at length and with confidence as he is intellectually sure footed. In all likelihood, he rarely has to “think on his feet” because he has been through the various scenarios a dozen times before the interviewer even knew there was an issue.
His manner – “Here are the facts: take them or stay ignorant” – is a glorious contrast to the stuttering, victim crouch of the likes of, say, Britain’s Tessa Jowell (and a hundred others), who punctuates each sentence with a dozen “errrms” and “hmmms” as she gropes towards the party line and safety and vacuity.
Why are we stuck with third-raters while the US has pillars of wisdom like Krauthammer?
Don’t worry about it. Get online, Google “Krauthammer”, and access the best that is being thought and said.
Andrew Gibson is an occasional contributor to The Commentator
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