James Mann in the New Republic: "Enough with the cliches already: The Obama administration's rhetoric on Russia is accomplishing nothing." This is the one that really grates on my ears:
2. They’re displaying nineteenth century behavior. They need to join the twenty-first century.
The administration loves to brand actions it doesn’t like as relics of the past. “It’s really nineteenth century behavior in the twenty-first century,” Kerry said of Putin’s Crimean gambit. A senior administration official who sounded like either National Security Advisor Susan Rice or Ben Rhodes told reporters on background, “What we see here are distinctly nineteenth- and twenty-first century decisions made by President Putin to address problems.”
Well, to start with, by definition Putin’s decisions are taking place in the twenty-first century. The administration here seems to be using the centuries like a teacher handing out a grade: twenty-first century is an A, twentieth century is a C, nineteenth century is an F. More importantly, talking this way raises an uncomfortable question: Does the reality of the twenty-first century conform to what Obama administration officials think it is? China, for example, is undeniably a force in the twenty-first century—yet its power-oriented approach to the Asia-Pacific region is of the sort that the Obama administration would mistakenly pigeonhole as “nineteenth century” behavior. Really, the Obama team is using “nineteenth-century” as an empty epithet to talk about modern-day behaviors it doesn’t like.
Amen. The version that strikes me as the emptiest is "Russia is on the wrong side of history." In the first place, it's not exactly clear which history Russia is on the wrong side of. Seizing territory held by others has been a pretty big part of the human story for all of time and probably always will be. In the second place, it's just a pretentious way to say, "You're doing stuff I don't approve of."
Or even saying stuff and thinking stuff I don't like. When Obama first used the phrase, it occurred to me that I've heard it a lot in the past few years, so I did a little Googling and found this story:
As a context-free measure of usage, the phrase “wrong side of history” has appeared in more than 1,800 articles this year, compared to 1,485 in all of last year and 524 in 2006, according to research by Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations. Book citations, gauging by one imperfect metric available through Google, indicate a steady fivefold climb spanning the past three decades.
A stupid, meaningless phrase. History doesn't really have "right sides" and "wrong sides." It just keeps moving along, day by day.