A beautiful day: warm, sunny. A garden in bloom filled with the laughter of children. Frolic beneath the whitewashed façade of a stately and classic old house. A friendly man in dress shirt and trousers reads aloud. Then: screams.
The young ones listening to the man are terrified. Bees have been spotted. The kids are afraid. The man, a father of two, projects calm. He pauses from his book—Where the Wild Things Are—and says, "It’s okay guys. Bees are good. They won’t land on you. They won’t sting you. They’ll be okay."
Doesn’t work. The bees are buzzing, menacing. A few of the kids cry out. The man changes his strategy. He admonishes the children. "Hold on, hold on, you guys are wild things," he says. "You’re not supposed to be afraid of bees." Laughter from parents, normalcy restored. The man resumes his tale.
An amusing interruption of an otherwise placid White House Easter Egg Roll? Undoubtedly. But some in the press said more was going on, that this encounter between the innocents, President Obama, and the swarm held a more profound significance.
"‘Bees are good,’ Obama says as children scream," read the Politico headline. "Perhaps no president in history has made a stronger case for protecting pollinators than Barack Obama," wrote the Washington Post. "Obama trying to reassure children about bees is a perfect metaphor for his foreign policy," pronounced a writer for Vox.com, who most recently confused New Hampshire with Vermont.
I say Vox.com is right. "Bees won’t sting you" is an apt slogan for Obama’s attitude toward the world. But I say too that his attitude is patronizing, unrealistic, dangerous. Bees do sting. And kill. And the real wasps of the world, the terrorists and criminals and psychopaths and autocrats, with their knives and box-cutters and bombs and guns and tanks and missiles and rockets and ICBMS—they sting, they hurt, they kill even more. They won’t be "okay."
"If you stay calm and more or less ignore the bee," writes Vox.com, "the odds are that things will be fine." Sure, someone one day will be hurt, even die. "But panicking at every bee sighting would be counterproductive." In the real world of states and ideologies and nuclear proliferation, "America’s superpower status should make us willing to embark on new diplomatic initiatives and avoid counterproductive panics over minor issues."
We have here all of the components of the liberal mindset: the threat deflation, the technocratic elitism, the preoccupation with the behavior of the stronger party vis-à-vis the weaker one, the depersonalization of non-Western actors, whose ideas and motives and ambitions and emotions are justified or ignored or explained away.
Bees aren’t dangerous and, Obama says, "Iran understands that they cannot fight us." John Kerry tells Congress, "We are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world," as a Caliphate is proclaimed in Mesopotamia, as Russia threatens nuclear war, devours Ukraine, and buzzes NATO allies, as jihadist attacks spread, as China builds a system of artificial islands to expand its regional power.
Worried? Settle down. You’re being irrational, inflating threats, acting out like a spoiled and ignorant brat. Liberals know better. We have this situation under control. Leave it to us—and do not, if you are a member of Congress, try to interfere. It’s America that must not panic but exercise restraint, to bind itself in a thousand petty contracts and agreements, in corrupt institutions, to guarantee that we don’t act rashly, aggressively, or alone.
What most concerns liberals is not the barbarism of our enemies but our conduct toward them. Not the habits of the bee but the decorum of the children. For who can control bees? They behave instinctively. And who can influence Putin? He’s encircled, stuck in the last century. The Iranians? We burned them pretty badly with that whole Mossadegh thing. Terrorism? We can pursue the terrorists, for sure, and we can apprehend them or kill them. They’re not warriors but criminals, and the grievances and furies that drive them can’t be suppressed through force alone. They have to burn themselves out.
Comforting thoughts. And especially attractive to Americans, who are protected by two great oceans, who exist in an unacknowledged confederation with our northern neighbor and whose biggest challenge with the citizens of our southern one is that they all seem to want to move here. Insanely rich, we are anxious over having too much to eat, over the consequences of increasing longevity. We Democrats prefer commerce to conflict, domestic affairs to international ones. We can afford not to panic. Or so it seems.
But try telling an Israeli that bees won’t sting. A Syrian. A Kurd. A Ukrainian. A Nigerian, or a Kenyan. You most likely will be laughed at. Revealed as naïve. Explain to the Saudis and Jordanians and Egyptians, to the Poles and Lithuanians, to the Japanese and South Koreans that America is engaging with rogue regimes because to respond to them in the traditional postwar manner would be "counterproductive." Our allies will laugh.
Complacency is an understandable response to peace and security. Some problems do go away if you leave them alone. But the world is not the Rose Garden, and the consequences of nuclear attack or nuclear war would be far worse than bug bites. Sometimes it’s right to worry, it’s right to be afraid, it’s right to have the flyswatter nearby. The hornets will strike, and when they do it will be more painful if we have let our guard down.
In which case there will be only one option.