If you look at the speeches given by the Democrats’ three most experienced foreign policymakers ? Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter ? you won’t find any common message about how America’s interests and ideals should shape its foreign policy.
I’m not above the occasional criticism of Democratic foreign policy myself, but I wonder just what people like David are expecting? Some kind of lockstep agreement about the mathematical formula we’re going to use to decide on foreign interventions? A bulleted PowerPoint slide signed in blood by every top Democrat in the country?
And really, any student of history can tell you that campaign rhetoric doesn’t mean much anyway. LBJ based his 1964 campaign on letting South Vietnamese kids fight their own war and then shipped half a million American kids to Vietnam within a year of winning the election. Richard Nixon had a secret plan to end the war and promptly expanded to war to Cambodia and Laos as soon as he took office. (He was also a famous red-baiter who opened relations with Red China.) Jimmy Carter was all about human rights, but he supported the Shah until the bitter end ? with disastrous consequences. George Bush talked about being a “humble nation” during the campaign, but after 9/11 he tossed that into the dustbin of history and invaded two countries in three years.
Now, it’s true that sometimes you get what you voted for. Ike said he’d end the Korean War and he did. Reagan said he’d be tough on communism and he was. But frankly, that seems more the exception than the rule.
Besides, if you want to complain about consistency, why pick on the Democrats? After all, you can’t seriously suggest that George Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz have a common message, can you? Hell, if their message were any less common the Bush administration would explode like some kind of political warp core breach. Even after four years, I don’t really have a clue what their second term policy toward North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, NATO, Pakistan, or Russia might be.
You won’t find an American politician of any era or any party who doesn’t extol the virtues of democracy. But talk is cheap, and while George Bush may have some good scriptwriters, in the real world he’s shown only the tiniest and most fleeting interest in genuine democracy building. Isn’t it time to look behind the curtain and admit it?
UPDATE: David takes up the foreign policy challenge here.