Very Serious People

VERY SERIOUS PEOPLE….As I’m sure you all know, one of the current favorite pastimes in the liberal blogosphere is to mock the Very Serious People who currently make up our foreign policy establishment. And hell, why not? They haven’t exactly been covering themselves in glory for the past few years.

The problem I’ve got, though, is trying to figure out who’s who. Obviously Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack are charter members of the VSP club, as are Tom Friedman and Michael Ignatieff. That’s easy. But who else? And who are the good guys? I bring this up because Samantha Power, presumably a safe progressive, wrote a memo a few days ago defending Barack Obama’s foreign policy pronouncements. Here’s part of what it said:

When asked whether he would use nuclear weapons to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Barack Obama gave the sensible answer that nuclear force was not necessary, and would kill too many civilians. Conventional wisdom held this up as a sign of inexperience. But if experience leads you to make gratuitous threats about nuclear use — inflaming fears at home and abroad, and signaling nuclear powers and nuclear aspirants that using nuclear weapons is acceptable behavior, it is experience that should not be relied upon.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the diplomatic convention that says it’s best for presidents (and wannabes) to stay quietly ambiguous about nuclear doctrine, the point scoring here is breathtaking. None of Obama’s opponents — absolutely none of them — made “gratuitous threats” about using nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Claiming otherwise might play well with the base, but overseas it sounds like confirmation from a trusted source that American presidential candidates have been talking wildly about nuking the Hindu Kush. That really might not be such a good impression to leave.

So: what should I think of Samantha Power? She has a pretty expansive view of the use of American power overseas (bad) but believes it should be harnessed to humanitarian goals (good). She kinda sorta opposed the Iraq war (good) but only because George Bush hadn’t gotten the world community on board (not so good). She speaks out against the conventional wisdom (good) but makes reckless and disingenuous charges about what other presidential candidates have said (bad).

So what’s the score? And while we’re at it, who else is on and off the VSP list? I need a scorecard.

POSTSCRIPT: And speaking of this, what about the diplomatic convention that says it’s best for presidents to stay quietly ambiguous about nuclear doctrine? There really is something to be said for it, no? After all, once you start answering hypotheticals, it’s hard to stop. And when you do stop, people are going to draw conclusions about where you’ve apparently drawn the line. Sometimes, it turns out, diplomatic conventions really do serve a purpose.

UPDATE: Several commenters think that Power’s “gratuitous threats” line was aimed at Republicans who have implied they’d use nukes against Iran. If that’s true, she sure chose an oblique way of saying it. Given the context, however, I assume that her actual target was Hillary Clinton, who responded to Obama’s nuclear comments merely by saying that it was unwise to talk about nuclear doctrine at all. Whether you agree or disagree, this is the farthest thing imaginable from a “gratuitous threat.”