Commentary Magazine

The Doctrine of Fakism

Have you heard the news? The foreign policy realists are here. No more of that silly worldview stuff for us. On Tuesday, during her Senate confirmation hearing, Hillary Clinton set the record straight:

The President-Elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today’s world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.

“Interdependence” played a big role in Clinton’s speech. So did diplomacy. Once again, speaking for both herself and Barack Obama, Hillary outlined the new direction of the coming foreign policy:

The President-Elect has made it clear that in the Obama Administration there will be no doubt about the leading role of diplomacy. One need only look to North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, and the Balkans to appreciate the absolute necessity of tough-minded, intelligent diplomacy – and the failures that result when that kind of diplomatic effort is absent. And one need only consider the assortment of problems we must tackle in 2009 – from fighting terrorism to climate change to global financial crises – to understand the importance of cooperative engagement.

But the real star of the show was “smart power”:

We must use what has been called “smart power,” the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy.”

In a planned attack of simultaneous “cooperative engagement,” John Kerry supported Hillary’s new realism with an opinion piece in Tuesday’s Boston Globe. Kerry wrapped up as follows:

The common element in this formula for a new foreign policy is replacing military solutions and unilateral action with diplomacy and multi-national consensus. Clinton’s work on the Armed Services Committee, her lifetime of public service, and her global stature have prepared her well to help pave this new road for American leadership.

Interdependence, diplomacy, cooperative engagement, multi-national consensus, “replacing military solutions.” If these are to be the hallmarks of a new foreign policy, how strange that on the very same day that Hillary Clinton spoke to the Senate about the sensible employment of “smart power” against Iran, and John Kerry wrote about enhancing “the ability of US diplomats to play the leading role in solving” global problems, Vice President-elect Joe Biden was in Iraq reassuring leadership in Baghdad that “the new administration will stick to the timetable in the [U.S.- Iraq status of forces] agreement,” and keep American troops in Iraq for at least three more years, if not much longer.

And how un-diplomatic was Joe Biden’s message of the following day. He told Barack Obama that things in Afghanistan will get worse before they get better, as Americans are soon to see an increase in the fighting. All this hardly seems like a new direction designed to highlight the “leading role of diplomacy.”

That’s because the most distinguishing feature of the new mushy realism is that it’s shamelessly fake. Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly believe that, “The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions,” because she can’t even explain what that means.  Barack Obama does not believe (at least not now) that Iran can be talked out of the bomb any more than he intends to “end” the Iraq War, and John Kerry doesn’t think, “we have an opportunity to reshape the way the United States does business with the world.” These fakists have settled on a language to use in public and this is it. Global, interconnected, diplomatic, sustainable, endurable, smart, multilateral, non-ideological. You know — Obamese. The biggest change Barack Obama has brought to American politics is linguistic. Leaders are now required to create cuddly, meaningless word salads while continuing the implementation of aggressive policies.

The Bush Doctrine is alive and well.  This is because George W. Bush was not, as Clinton and Kerry imply, too blinded by ideology to be pragmatic. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said of smart power, “This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that ‘in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.’” But she didn’t need to reach back to the second century B.C. to make her point. She could have simply adduced the behavior of the current President. Before attacking Afghanistan, President Bush pleaded both directly and through back channels with the Taliban in hopes that they would hand over Osama bin laden. Before going into Iraq, the President got the UN Security Council to pass a cycle of extra resolutions aimed at getting Saddam to disclose his weapons and weapons programs without having to go the military route. In both cases, Bush doggedly sought UN approval for action – something Hillary Clinton’s husband did not secure before launching operations in Haiti, the Balkans, and Iraq.

What’s so bad about the doctrine of Fakism, some might ask. Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton not merely speaking softly and carrying big sticks? After all, even most of President Bush’s fans agree that his gunfight slang probably did more harm than good. If bold Bush policy has now been complimented by better PR, hasn’t the one sorely missing piece fallen into place?

Not exactly. If you enter into a contract with your leaders whereby you agree to be lied to, where is the accountability? Signing off on a government whose preferred mode of domestic communication is one big wink leaves you very little room to complain down the line. When can you say, “Alright, knock it off, you did something I don’t like,” if your leaders have already made it clear that what they do need not connect to what they say. And on what grounds would you trust their pledges to change course?

We are about to come under the governance of an administration that promises the end to wars it is simultaneously extending or ramping up, and that pretends it will keep doomsday weapons out of the hands of madmen by persuasion. Words matter. Until they don’t – wink wink.

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