Her Foreign Affairs essay says not a single word about public diplomacy or the war of ideas, or even hints at the notion that there might be a vast, complicated Muslim world out there beyond al-Qaeda impatient for real dialogue with a post-Bush America. When she talks about engagement, she seems to mean either talking to friendly leaders or working within institutions. I searched her campaign web site in vain for her ideas on the subject: the term “public diplomacy” turns up only one, unrelated hit on her campaign site, “war of ideas” none, “dialogue and Islam” none. Even her big foreign policy address last week at GWU – right across the street from where I was teaching at the time – began by proposing to restore America’s moral authority but never offered a single word about public diplomacy or international dialogue or the internal debates in the Muslim world. Even when the address closed by reciting all the “tools” which she would use, public diplomacy didn’t make the laundry list. In a foreign policy community saturated with recommendations on public diplomacy and the war of ideas, this absence has to be intentional. Combine the silence on public diplomacy with her decision to highlight at every opportunity her Bush-like refusal to talk to problematic foreign leaders as her main point of disagreement with Obama, and you get something which looks… well, all too familiar (no wonder those bastions of liberal foreign policy Powerline and Commentary have got her back).
The intentional aspect of the omissions that Lynch mentions might derive from Clinton not wanting to appear too soft, too womanly, or from a genuine world view in which such concepts are without serious value. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but I want to discuss the latter case, as there is not enough writing out about Senator Clinton’s deplorable record when it comes to the Arab-American community and international policy.
It is often said that many Clinton supporters are such because of a longing for the days of the nineteen-nineties, when prosperity was on the rise and America seemed to be universally loved. Conservatives and realists dismiss this sentiment and argue that the nighties were a “squandered decade” in which, despite ever expanding national interests and economic integration, the United States “had turned its back on other peoples to contemplate its own — and Madonna’s — navel,” and “the models for the new world order were the National Basketball Association and the tennis tour”.* While many Democrats complain that American knowledge of the wider world is dismally breviloquent, foreign language education (though never strong in America), geographic literacy, and overall interest in international affairs declined rapidly, or at the very best remained constant, under the Clintons’ tenure.
Others see her diplomatic “experience” (which has yet to be clarified) as a major asset over Senator Obama, who has next to none. Most readers will know that I am deeply skeptical of Hillary Clinton, mostly as a result of her behavior, comments, and voting record with respect to Arabs and Muslims. Her use of Senator Obama’s Muslim heritage is not the only time that she has used (or at the very least tolerated) bigotry against Muslims and things related to them in an effort to get ahead. Senator Clinton’s career is replete with high profile instances of “kicking Arabs in the teeth.” Clinton’s role as a ring leader in the Dubai ports scandal,** her unwavering and uncritical support of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 and her consistent reluctance to show any form of amiability to either the Arab-American or American Muslim communities — in the face of numerous invitations and opportunities — point to a strong anti-Arab and anti-Muslim streak that, I believe, will hinder her diplomatic efforts if she becomes president of the United States. Her experience has evidently not led her to a substantially more diplomatic posture than Mr. Bush or Senator McCain, though both men at least hold up the pretension of soft power. Her record on Arabs and Muslims show a knee-jerk hostility that could lead to dangerous diplomatic gaffes and incidents. The Senator’s prejudices could very well lead to an over-reliance on military force, as opposed to political solutions when they are most relevant.***
The refusal to include efforts at public diplomacy and Islamic world out reach in her foreign policy may mean that she does not believe such efforts to be possible (a rather remarkable stance, coming from someone who has no solid diplomatic experience whatsoever) because of strongly cemented cultural or religious reasons prejudices (“they’ll hate us anyway”). The alternative to seeking A leader so firm in his or her bigotry cannot lead a nation rationally.
* [ “Why Are We in Iraq?: A Realpolitik Perspective”, by Barry Gewen, in World Policy Journal, Volume XXIV, No. 3, Fall 2007. p. 9. ]
** [ What made that deal a “scandal” is still beyond me. The ordeal seemingly had nothing to do with the company’s performance or its being foreign. Foreign firms control many US ports and terminals, and similar deals with German and Chinese firms took place during and after the tiff was over. The objection was that the deal involved an Arab firm, which was owned by the government of the UAE (as part of the country’s “sovereign wealth fund”). The bogus claims that the UAE in the past supported terrorism and that its lack of official relations with Israel would greatly hinder the firm in handling cargo had little basis in reality. As David Brooks wrote at the time there was “no evidence that this deal will do any harm.” Indeed, the deal’s opponents had seized on an otherwise benign example of globalization in a text-book case of demagoguery all the while fanning the flames of anti-Arab racism. ]
*** [ This isn’t to say that on some of the most complex issues the next administration will face any of the other candidates seem to show a serious understanding of them whatsoever. No candidate, Senators Obama and McCain included, understand that the problems in Lebanon, for instance, are almost entirely political in nature and will exist so long as no serious political solution within the country exists that mediates the balance of power between the various sectarian factions. Their positions on this issue do not differ (notice that in Obama’s comments, the only objection to the present Lebanon policy is that it is being carried out by George Bush) significantly at all except in the semantics. ]