President Bill Clinton used the word "diplomacy" again and again Wednesday night while was raising the roof at the Democratic convention. How refreshing.
For most of the last eight years, "diplomacy" has been a word that President George W. Bush and his buddies in the White House locker room have made sound vaguely metrosexual, suggesting an effeminate tendency to talk instead of act, to agonize rather than attack. Diplomacy was something for (smirk) the French. Real men bombed Iraq.
As Robert Kagan famously wrote in his book "Of Paradise and Power," published on the eve of the American-led invasion, "Americans are from Mars [manly] and Europeans are from Venus [womanly].'' And even after Condoleezza Rice took over at the State Department and began trying to revive diplomacy, all else having failed, there was an abiding presumption that those who constantly showed they had cojones, whether literal or figurative, were more in touch with reality than those without.
That tone carries through today in the presidential campaign. Republican candidate John McCain unquestionably and unequivocally remains on Mars. And Democratic contender Barack Obama … well, it's instructive to look at their official Web sites to see what each man has to say about that word "diplomacy."
McCain doesn't mention it. Not under the heading of "Iraq," where it would seem prudent and indeed imperative to talk to that country's neighbors; not under the heading "Border Security," where it might seem logical to talk to this country's neighbors, and not under the heading "National Security," which, on Mars, is all about the virtues of military muscle-flexing: pumping up the size of the military and erecting missile shields.
Just in case we didn't get the subliminal point, there's also McCain's latest attack ad targeting Obama, a clip McCain's team has dubbed "Tiny." The overt message of the 30-second spot is to quote the Democratic candidate saying Iran is a "tiny" country that supposedly doesn't pose a serious threat to the United States, and to suggest that Obama doesn't care if Israel is in the mullahs' sights. Of course this just ain't true, as Factcheck.org points out in admirable detail. Obama actually said of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela: "These countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union." And if there were any doubt about the relative importance of the Kremlin's military today, well, just ask Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his troops in the Caucasus. But you can see why John McCain approved that ad. On Mars, only a wimp would try to put the Iranian threat in perspective, would try to, well, talk to Iran before (or instead of) attacking it.
Is McCain really this thick? Actually, no. But he is congenitally comfortable with macho truculence and he knows that a lot of Americans, and a lot of talkers on talk radio, and not a few reporters and pundits on 24/7 news shows are, too. The language of attack and defend and victory makes for facile sound bites. And sound bites, it seems, are what pass for "substance." How else to explain the oft-repeated charge that Obama has yet to put "meat on the bones" of his proposals for change?
On issues of foreign policy, certainly, the substance is plain to see on the Obama Web site. That includes a major section on "Renewing American Diplomacy" that includes proposals to make resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "a key diplomatic priority" and to expand the foreign service and foreign-aid operations abroad, especially those that play a vital role working alongside the military. Under the diplomacy category, the Obama platform focuses on pushing other members of NATO to share a greater part of the alliance's reconstruction and stabilization operations while giving military commanders more flexibility in the field, which will be vital to the struggle in Afghanistan and possibly to the face-off with Moscow.
On the McCain site there's no reference to NATO at all. But there is a big button on the home page that says "Senator Joe Biden: Get the Facts," which links to a slapped-together page sliming Obama's vice presidential pick, including his "History Plagued by Off Message Moments." The whole thing has a "so's your mother" feel to it.
In fact, the policies inflicted on Americans and on the world these last seven years appear now, sadly, for what they were: testosterone-fueled fantasies. But being in touch with your cojones is not the same as being in touch with reality.
So, is Obama from Venus? No. If, as Bill Clinton suggested, "President Obama will choose diplomacy first and military force as a last resort … [and] when he cannot convert adversaries into partners, he will stand up to them," that's just down to earth. And that's what's needed in the real world where policies are made that affect the real lives of millions of men and women alike.