Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Isakson preaching the 'Hans and Franz' school of foreign policy

In a speech to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson argued strongly for implementing a more aggressive and more muscular approach to American foreign policy. For example, Isakson explained, the only reason that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is dabbling in the Ukraine these days is because "they knew we weren't about to go in and confront them."

And the proposed nuclear deal with Iran? "It’s a choice between strength and acquiescence," Isakson told the crowd. "And I think it’s about time we stopped acquiescing to the Iranians and start to show our strength.”

He took a similarly aggressive line toward ISIS, the brutal Islamic jihadist group now terrorizing much of Iraq and Syria.

"If somebody would cut off your head, burn you in Times Square, or kill themselves in order to kill you, there’s only one to deal with it," he told the chamber audience to applause. "Kill them first. We need to get aggressive and take them out."

In such statements, the senior senator from Georgia is drawing heavily on the approach pioneered by two highly respected Austrian experts in international affairs. You know them as Hans and Franz, from the old Saturday Night Live skit and more recently in a series of State Farm commercials. In the skit, two skinny, out-of-shape comedians don absurd muscle costumes, prance and preen on the stage and call other people "girly men" and "sissies". And the reason it's funny is because we know that it's just macho posturing by two skinny, out-of-shape comedians in muscle costumes.

It's a lot less funny when politicians do it. To use the example cited by Isakson, no U.S. president is going to send American troops to confront Russia over the eastern half of the Ukraine, for the same reason that President George W. Bush did nothing when Russian troops invaded the country of Georgia in 2008. It's just not worth a potential world war. Bush knew it. Putin knows it. And Isakson knows it too.

Then there's ISIS. We need to "kill them first," we need to "get aggressive and take them out," Isakson says. Mighty big talk. But on the other hand, Isakson rushes to assure us that it "doesn’t mean a land war in the Middle East." Oh no. We have to "kill them", but in a war? No. What we need is "a commitment to our men and women in uniform, to give them the authority and the orders they need to do what’s necessary in that part of the world."

What exactly does that mean? The United States has already launched some 6,000 airstrikes against ISIS in the past few months, we've conducted special forces raids to take out its leadership and we've got more than 3,000 military advisers and trainers on the ground in Iraq. Short of this land war that we are assured isn't necessary, what more should we do?

It's particularly revealing to hear Isakson stress the importance of giving our military "the authority and the orders they need to do what’s necessary" against ISIS. In his State of the Union speech back on Jan. 20, President Obama made the same argument, pleading with Congress "to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”

Eight months have passed. Isakson and his fellow Republicans control the Senate. They control the House. They control the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Isakson is a member. But despite the president's pleading, they have done nothing to give our military "the authority and the orders they need to do what’s necessary" because they can't even agree among themselves about what that resolution should say, and because they don't want the responsibility should something go wrong.

Even Hans and Franz would be appalled. As they would say, hear me now and believe me later.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.