People-to-People or Anti-People? – Foreign Policy Mythology Part IV

The Department of State, October 31, 2011: The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced today a new partnership with the Association of American Voices to engage with people across the world through music. Known as American Music Abroad, this people-to-people exchange will feature a wide variety of American musical genres through international cultural exchange initiatives that will reach more than 40 countries around the world during 2012 and 2013. American Music Abroad builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power” diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools – in this case music – to bring people together and foster greater understanding.

“Hillary Clinton and the Hollowness of ‘People-to-People’ Diplomacy” by Fouad Ajami, WSJ, August 10, 2012: The sight of Hillary Clinton cutting a rug on the dance floor this week in South Africa gives away the moral obtuseness of America’s chief diplomat. That image will tell the people of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, under attack by a merciless regime, all they need to know about the heartlessness of U.S. foreign policy. … After settling into her post in early 2009, she made it clear that the “freedom agenda” of the prior administration would be sacrificed. “Ideology is so yesterday,” she bluntly proclaimed in April of that year. This is what her boss had intended all along. The herald of change in international affairs, the man who had hooked crowds in Paris and Berlin and Cairo, was, at heart, a trimmer, timid about America’s possibilities beyond its shores.

                                                               ———     ———      ———

I have nothing against cultural exchanges, and think it salutary for people of different nations to interact, to see that we’re all human beings. But the gall! Hillary Clinton laying claim to People to People Diplomacy?” How very progressive – and heartless -  to see relations between “people” in terms of celebrating each other’s cultures, but not in terms of sharing our humanity and caring about each other’s human rights. Cultural relativists in Clinton’s State Department downplay the differences between democracies and repressive regimes and engage in “outreach” to the world’s worst dictators.

The Obama administration treats the problems of people living under totalitarian rule as matters of indifference to American foreign policy. They are such matters of indifference that speaking out for the people living within the dark night of totalitarian rule is deemed “counterproductive” while speaking with the brutal heads of these regimes – even when they declare our destruction as their goal, break treaties before our eyes, and exterminate and torture their citizens – is deemed the “smart” approach.

Neither power strategies divorced from principle nor advocacy of human rights divorced from attention to American power represent the best in the American foreign policy tradition. At its best, American foreign policy combines these concerns. It refuses to see foreign affairs only in terms of nations balanced with and against each other; it also cares about the people within nations, and holds onto the hope that the oppressed will eventually be free.

Some American foreign policy initiatives, such as détente on the one hand and Jimmy Carter’s policies on the other, have emphasized either power concerns or humanitarian ideals. But no significant American foreign policy initiative has emphasized neither. And yet, that this is precisely what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have done. They have rejected American principles for the sake of a doctrine that views all cultures and ideas as valid. They have decreased our military power and surrendered our strategic advantage for the sake of an accommodation that makes little distinction between enemies and friends. They have abandoned both the pro-democracy spirit and the defensive alliances of “containment” – a foreign policy initiative which stands, perhaps, as the most brilliant and successful of the twentieth century. 

*It’s been an absolute pleasure writing four foreign policy blogs for Ricochet this week, and interacting with the Ricochet community. It’s full of people who are astute, witty, convivial and caring.

  1. Crow

    I always took “smart power” to be one of those ironic Newspeak terms. Always looked to me like some cross between indifference and clumsy impotence.

    But, now, surveying this tremendous success, I see now how wrong I was….

  2. Anne R. Pierce
    Crow’s Nest: I always took “smart power” to be one of those ironic Newspeak terms. Always looked to me like some cross between indifference and clumsy impotence.

    But, now, surveying this tremendous success, I see now how wrong I was…. · 3 minutes ago

    Ha!

  3. Spin

    I beleive this is the result of a view that does not see American and her values as the “last best hope” for the world.  Some of us believe that our world view that places intrinsic value on human life, and see individual as important contributors, regardless of some accident of geography (to paraphrase Bono), as in fact better than just about any other world view.  And we aren’t afraid to say so.  And we think part of America’s duty to the rest of the planet is to export that world view, so that parent’s stop selling their daughters into sexual slavery, and men stop raping women in order to dishonor the woman’s family. 

  4. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Ken Owsley: I beleive this is the result of a view that does not see American and her values as the “last best hope” for the world.  Some of us believe that our world view that places intrinsic value on human life, and see individual as important contributors, regardless of some accident of geography (to paraphrase Bono), as in fact better than just about any other world view.  And we aren’t afraid to say so.  And we think part of America’s duty to the rest of the planet is to export that world view, so that parent’s stop selling their daughters into sexual slavery, and men stop raping women in order to dishonor the woman’s family.  · 7 minutes ago

    Well stated!

  5. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Clint Eastwood’s metaphor of the empty chair comes to mind. For more than three years, we have been missing from the word stage. “Leading from behind” means not leading at all.

    The real trick is to combine doing well by defending genuine American interests with doing good by being sensitive to the needs of others. On the whole, we did this very well during the Cold War. We have been less successful in recent years — at times when we emphasized putative humanitarianism at the expense of interest, and at ties when we emphasized putative interest at the expense of humanitarianism. Neither the idealists nor the realists have it right.

  6. John Grant
    C

    This isn’t the whole picture. HRC and BHO do care about human rights, at least in the same way that establishment Republicans do. How else can one explain HRC hectoring audiences in the Middle East about the need to embrace gay rights and feminism? What about her boasting about promoting Chinese dissidents?

    Let’s not forget that the bulk of BHO’s Cairo Address (after initial multicultural blather) is a lengthy list of things that need to change in Egypt to come up to contemporary Western standards.

    How was intervention in Libya not guided by “R2P” ideals? We broke things and killed people in a Wilsonian cause.

    I cannot see any significant difference between Bush and Obama on this point. BHO emphasizes multiculturalism more than Bush, but it was certainly present in Bush. (I cannot forget euphemisms such as “religion of peace” and “women of cover.” If BHO used that language, he would be pilloried by conservatives. GB-43 did use that language, and conservatives generally gave him a free pass.)

  7. FirstAmendment

    Great title and a great point … the “policy” fundamentally is anti-people. I’ve enjoyed reading the Foreign Policy Mythology series this week. This is a critical topic which warrants more awareness and discussion, especially now.

  8. Anne R. Pierce
    John Grant: This isn’t the whole picture. HRC and BHO do care about human rights, at least in the same way that establishment Republicans do. What about her boasting about promoting Chinese dissidents?

    Let’s not forget … BHO’s Cairo Address

    Any clear stand Clinton took on human rights was indeed in the context of feminism.  She almost never took a stand in the broader context. Ask Chinese, Iranian, Syrian dissidents what they think of the Obama/Clinton approach. Remember her international “tours” in which she broke the hearts of dissidents there and in awful regimes like North Korea by indicating human rights would not be on the agenda? In addition, not one word regarding Russian resurgence in Russia, Czechnya, Ukraine, and she and Obama snubbed reformist leaders of those countries. Recent half-hearted references to rights seem timed for campaign season. Cairo speech should be seen in context of the unprecedented outreach to/fawning over the world’s worst totalitarian thugs at the time.  Upon close examination, I do not believe the Cairo speech stands clearly in the tradition of American/democratic ideals. 

    Agree that intervention in Libya was Wilsonian. But overall Libya policy completely erratic and mystifying.

  9. Anne R. Pierce
    Crow’s Nest

    Anne:  Specifically, I think that the statement “holding onto that the oppressed will eventually be free” seems to suggest that all peoples everywhere desire freedom in the Western sense of the term. I do not think that is necessarily the case.

    I do think we heard some similarly overreaching rhetoric during the Bush years, and while I appreciate the deeply providential sentiment that lays behind it, I think there is as much naivety as there is wisdom in it. The internal character of regimes matters in their decision making, but we should not mistake this hope for their actual character. · 47 minutes ago

    I see your point re. others’ differences regarding western senses of the term. On the other hand, the Arab Human Development report shows the longing for more political freedom and more opportunity throughout the Arab world.  Bush opponents, while supposedly arguing against American “arrogance,” frequently made the argument that others weren’t “ready” for democracy or didn’t “want” it.  In my upcoming book, OUTCRY, I argue that America is exceptional precisely because we see rights as universal.   That does not mean we should use arms to force regime change.

  10. David John
    Anne Pierce, Guest Contributor:  They have … surrendered our strategic advantage for the sake of an accommodation that makes little distinction between enemies and friends. 

    Oh no… they make a distinction between enemies and friends… and they favor the enemies.  They are anti-American. I know a few of them myself.

  11. Anne R. Pierce
    Ken Owsley: I beleive this is the result of a view that does not see American and her values as the “last best hope” for the world.  Some of us believe that our world view that places intrinsic value on human life, and see individual as important contributors, regardless of some accident of geography (to paraphrase Bono), as in fact better than just about any other world view.  And we aren’t afraid to say so.  And we think part of America’s duty to the rest of the planet is to export that world view, so that parent’s stop selling their daughters into sexual slavery, and men stop raping women in order to dishonor the woman’s family.  · 7 hours ago

    There’s actually a level of indifference to all of it that’s unprecedented. When people were (early on) indifferent to Hitler, they had limited information, but now?

  12. Barbara Kidder
    Anne Pierce, Guest Contributor: Also – on China. even from a purely practical standpoint – Top “realists” in Asia expressed puzzlement as to why Clinton would surrender the human rights bargaining chip before meeting with Chinese leaders for the first time.  Human rights groups were newly energized and restless and China was more afraid of its citizenry than of anything else. If she was going to give up focusing on human rights (which I wouldn’t agree with), why not at least get something in exchange for agreeing not to focus on human rights? · 5 hours ago

    The answer to this last question will increasingly become, something like:

    “We better not rattle China because if they stop buying our debt, we’re screwed…”

    I have found your four articles on U.S. foreign policy very informative, and your heart for the Syrian people very moving.

    Thank you for both!

  13. John Grant
    C

    HRC has actually spoken about the need for human rights in the same way as say FDR. In addition to Libya, we should also remember the special forces deployed to shut the Lord’s Resistance Army down.

    You are right about the lack of coherence, but that applies equally to previous Progressive administrations. Bush cared about human rights in the same way–sometimes he did and sometimes he did not. Let’s not forget Saudi Arabia’s long string of human rights abuses, unchallenged by both Democrats and Republicans.

    Obama is erratic. So was Bush. Hence the Islamic theocracies Bush helped establish in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Anne Pierce, Guest Contributor

    Any clear stand Clinton took on human rights was indeed in the context of feminism. . . .  Recent half-hearted references to rights seem timed for campaign season. Cairo speech should be seen in context of the unprecedented outreach to/fawning over the world’s worst totalitarian thugs at the time.  Upon close examination, I do not believe the Cairo speech stands clearly in the tradition of American/democratic ideals. 

    Agree that intervention in Libya was Wilsonian. But overall Libya policy completely erraticand mystifying. · 8 hours ago

  14. John Grant
    C

    Hi CN,

    The differences between neo-conservatives and liberal internationalists exist mostly in the minds of pundits. Look at how both were happy to jump on board the Libya bandwagon. The neo-cons are much less hardheaded than they seem, and the R2P people actually don’t demand R2P in many instances.

    Where are the R2P concerns about Iraqi Christians?

    At most there is a difference in emphasis, but the results are basically the same.

    Crow’s Nest

     

    John: There are continuities in some areas between these two foreign policies (as there is some overlap between liberal internationalism and neoconservatism is both are drawn broadly enough) but there are also significant discontinuities.

    To cite but one example, most neocons do not buy R2P arguments.

    Your post above contains an incoherence. You seem to be saying that both parties pay lip service to human rights, but don’t actually mean it–but this would imply that, to be consistent, they’d have a more aggressive foreign policy, which you do not favor. Or they’d have to cease speaking the language of rights altogether, but would this not constitute an even greater concession to relativism? · 8 hours ago

  15. Anne R. Pierce
    Barbara Kidder

    The answer to this last question will increasingly become, something like:

    “We better not rattle China because if they stop buying our debt, we’re screwed…”

    I have found your four articles on U.S. foreign policy very informative, and your heart for the Syrian people very moving.

    Thank you for both! · 14 hours ago

    Edited 14 hours ago

    Unfortunately, I agree with your point on our debt situation! Thanks so much for the positive feedback and for all your interesting comments on my foreign policy blogs.

  16. Crow
    John Grant: HRC and BHO do care about human rights, at least in the same way that establishment Republicans do….

    I cannot see any significant difference between Bush and Obama on this point. BHO emphasizes multiculturalism more than Bush, but it was certainly present in Bush. (I cannot forget euphemisms such as “religion of peace” and “women of cover.” If BHO used that language, he would be pilloried by conservatives. GB-43 did use that language, and conservatives generally gave him a free pass.)

    John: There are continuities in some areas between these two foreign policies (as there is some overlap between liberal internationalism and neoconservatism is both are drawn broadly enough) but there are also significant discontinuities.

    To cite but one example, most neocons do not buy R2P arguments.

    Your post above contains an incoherence. You seem to be saying that both parties pay lip service to human rights, but don’t actually mean it–but this would imply that, to be consistent, they’d have a more aggressive foreign policy, which you do not favor. Or they’d have to cease speaking the language of rights altogether, but would this not constitute an even greater concession to relativism?

  17. Anne R. Pierce

    Also – on China. even from a purely practical standpoint – Top “realists” in Asia expressed puzzlement as to why Clinton would surrender the human rights bargaining chip before meeting with Chinese leaders for the first time.  Human rights groups were newly energized and restless and China was more afraid of its citizenry than of anything else. If she was going to give up focusing on human rights (which I wouldn’t agree with), why not at least get something in exchange for agreeing not to focus on human rights?

  18. Crow
    Anne Pierce: Neither power strategies divorced from principle nor advocacy of human rights divorced from attention to American power represent the best in the American foreign policy tradition. At its best, American foreign policy combines these concerns.

    It refuses to see foreign affairs only in terms of nations balanced with and against each other; it also cares about the people within nations, and holds onto the hope that the oppressed will eventually be free.

    Anne: I concur completely with the first paragraph I’ve cited above, but I think the final sentence of the second paragraph overreaches. Specifically, I think that the statement “holding onto that the oppressed will eventually be free” seems to suggest that all peoples everywhere desire freedom in the Western sense of the term. I do not think that is necessarily the case.

    I do think we heard some similarly overreaching rhetoric during the Bush years, and while I appreciate the deeply providential sentiment that lays behind it, I think there is as much naivety as there is wisdom in it. The internal character of regimes matters in their decision making, but we should not mistake this hope for their actual character.

  19. hobbithill

    I’ll grant I don’t have as extensive of a foreign policy knowledge or comprehension as all the above contributors BUT as a layman, to see and read about all the human rights atrocities in Syria, North Korea, Iran to name a few  followed by inaction and lack of leadership from both Hillary Clinton our Secretary of State and Barack Obama our President is heartrending, abysmal and embarrassing for our Nation…it seems to me it is all politics with NO, I repeat, NO consideration for human rights, period.

  20. Keith Rice
    Paul A. Rahe:

    “Leading from behind” means not leading at all.

    “Leading from behind” is the step before “running away”. It’s also called “cowardice”.

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