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.

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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.