Each new crisis around the world, including the scab scraping problems in Ukraine following this week’s plane downing, seem to demonstrate that foreign policy will be a much bigger factor in the next presidential election than I’d once imagined. Americans will still focus on a host of domestic issues, but it’s impossible to ignore the deteriorating state of affairs around the globe and America’s place on that larger stage. This made it all the more curious to examine Hillary Clinton’s statements about American foreign policy given on, of all places, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Setting jokes aside for a moment, Stewart asked Hillary, what is our foreign policy anymore? Her answer was remarkable for its lack of depth.
What I found when I became secretary of state is that so many people in the world—especially young people—they had no memory of the United States liberating Europe and Asia, beating the Nazis, fighting the Cold War and winning, that was just ancient history. They didn’t know the sacrifices that we had made and the values that motivated us to do it. We have not been telling our story very well. We do have a great story. We are not perfect by any means, but we have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity, and let’s get back to telling it, to ourselves first and foremost, and believing it about ourselves and then taking that around the world. That’s what we should be standing for.
Peter Beinart at The Atlantic first brought this to my attention, and he found the former Secretary of State’s response lacking, though for different reasons than I did.
As a vision for America’s relations with the world, this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing. It’s true that young people overseas don’t remember the Cold War. But even if they did, they still wouldn’t be inspired by America’s “great story about [promoting] human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” That’s because in the developing world—where most of humanity lives—barely anyone believes that American foreign policy during the Cold War actually promoted those things. What they mostly remember is that in anticommunism’s name, from Pakistan to Guatemala to Iran to Congo, America funded dictators and fueled civil wars.
I’m not going to debate Beinart as to how people in various parts of the world view the United States and our history of foreign involvement. There are as many answers to that question as there are nations. But this pollyannaish view that our major shortcoming is our failure to tell our story well enough just smacks of the Obama Doctrine. Everybody will like us if we just sufficiently explain why we’re so darned likeable!
The world is what it is, and there are, sadly, as many evil actors out there as there are noble people deserving of our help. If you want to lead this nation, what I believe we are looking for is someone who can articulate precisely what our goals are, where our resources can best be put to use and where we need to keep a hands off position. A real leader should be able to articulate how we are defining who our friends are and who we must be ready to move against, as well as the circumstances under which such action would be undertaken. And most importantly – in terms of communications – they will need to able to let the rest of world, friend and foe alike, know what they can expect from us both as ally and enemy, and be ready to deliver on those expectations.
Hillary Clinton’s answer was a clear demonstration of the opposite. This is not an advertising campaign to be managed by a smooth spokesperson. We’re talking about the responsibilities of the sole remaining superpower on the planet and how those challenges will be met. Home team cheerleading is not any sort of basis for foreign policy.