Listening to criticism of U.S. foreign and national security policy is frequently an exercise in reinterpreting the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
In the traditional telling of the tale, Goldilocks encounters items that are either too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, until ultimately encountering things that are just right.
In the contemporary political adaptation, the United States sometimes displays imperial arrogance but other times doesn't exhibit enough international leadership. Some U.S. policies go too far in advancing national security; others don't go far enough. Rarely, however, do critics find or propose an approach that's even remotely right, as the debates about American ports and the fight against fascism in Iraq demonstrate.
Sometimes Goldilocksism is merely a sophisticated expression of traditional anti-Americanism.
Consider French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the reigning poet laureate of progressive porridge and an intense critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. In November, when Rep. John Murtha set the anti-war brigades atwitter with his call for an immediate U.S. pullout, Villepin warned the United States against acting too hastily.
"I think the timetable should be a global timetable," Reuters quoted Villepin as saying. "The real timetable is the Iraqi situation."
That unilateral war is all wrong, he's saying. But don't bring the troops home too quickly or at least not until the international community thinks it's a good idea.
Sometimes Goldilocksism is merely repackaged anti-Bushism.
In August, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi authored, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, an op-ed in USA Today that condemned President Bush for (I kid you not) being too passive in confronting the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands. Instead of Bush's "hands-off," multilateral approach to Iran and North Korea, the two Democrats proposed a unilateral "program of 'carrots' combined with an old-fashioned, American 'big stick.'"
"That means pursuing diplomacy and trying to convince these nations to act in their own best interests," they wrote. "But it also means backing that up with a real commitment to use whatever form of pressure is most likely to produce results."
Mama Bear Pelosi, however, voted against the 2002 commitment of pressure to produce results in Iraq.
And sometimes Goldilocksism reveals intellectual dishonesty along with unprincipled, partisan hypocrisy.
Sen. John Kerry, on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in January, called the program to eavesdrop on communications between individuals in the United States and suspected foreign terrorists "a clear violation of the law."
In defense of Papa Bear Democrats, Kerry added, "We're prepared to eavesdrop wherever and whenever necessary in order to make America safer."
"If you think this is a clear violation of the law, why not move to cut off funding for the program?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"That's premature," Kerry responded, which is at least as unscrupulous as voting for funding a war before voting against it.
In the fairy tale world, of course, the three bears ultimately confront Goldilocks, who depending on which version you read meets a gruesome end or escapes into the woods.
In the far stranger world of politics, however, those afflicted with the Goldilocks Syndrome vacillate between one extreme of criticism and another without having to provide a solution that's right. And they all live happily ever after.