Smart power? So That’s What They Meant!

We hadn’t heard much about “smart power” lately, and I hoped the Obama administration had mercifully retired that arrogant theme. But no: today, in a conference at the National Defense University in Washington, Hillary Clinton resurrected “smart power.” Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: Randy Crabtree, Defense Intelligence Agency and a student at Industrial College of the Armed Forces. My question is: Are the messages we’re sending in Libya and Syria really sending a message that the U.S. isn’t prepared to underwrite stability in the world anymore and that we just simply can’t afford it?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. I don’t think so. I’d see it somewhat differently. I think it’s a message that the United States stands for our values, our interests, and our security, but that we have a very clear view that others need to be taking the same steps to enforce a universal set of values and interests. So I view this somewhat differently than I know some of the perhaps commentary has evidenced.

If you look at Libya, this is a case for strategic patience, and it’s easy to get impatient. … This is exactly the kind of world that I want to see where it’s not just the United States and everybody is standing on the sidelines while we bear the cost, while we bear the sacrifice, while our men and women lay down their lives for universal values, where we’re finally beginning to say, “Look, we are by all measurements the strongest leader in the world, and we are leading. But part of leading is making sure that you get other people on the field.” And that’s what I think we’re doing.

Actually, in the case of Libya, I think it was the Europeans that got us onto the field. They are the ones who rely on Libyan oil. And note that Clinton doesn’t try to claim that what we have done in Libya has been successful, or even has a coherent rationale. The fact that we are doing it with others (like our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan) is evidently an end in itself.

And similarly, as I told Frank in Syria, it’s not going to be any news if the United States says Asad needs to go. Okay. Fine. What’s next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Asad regime can ignore it. We don’t have very much going on with Syria because of a long history of challenging problems with them. So I think this is smart power, and I talk a lot about smart power, where it’s not just brute force, it’s not just unilateralism, it’s being smart enough to say, “You know what? We want a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book, and we want them singing a song of universal freedom, human rights, democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years.” That’s what I’m looking for us to be able to achieve.

Clinton contrasts “smart power” with “brute force” and “unilateralism.” Being “smart” means “a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book.” But singing is the easy part; much easier than acting. On Syria, the Obama administration has done nothing. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, it hasn’t even taken the symbolic step of recalling our ambassador. And Clinton’s statement that Assad can’t ignore world leaders telling him he “needs to go” is ridiculous. He has ignored them, and he will continue to do so, even as his troops mow down thousands of Syrians who are getting no help–not even symbolic encouragement–from the Obama administration.

To the extent that intelligible meaning can be attributed to Clinton’s comments, she is saying that “smart diplomacy” means not invading Libya and Syria unilaterally–as though anyone had ever advocated any such thing. She makes no effort to distinguish “smart diplomacy” from “random, purposeless intervention” in the case of Libya, or from “inaction” or “weakness” in the case of Syria. Nor does she try to explain why we are bombing Libya but not Syria.

What is smart about the Obama administration’s diplomacy? Nothing, except that it is theirs, and is therefore blessed by their inherent wonderfulness. Liberals believe that they are “smart” simply by virtue of existing. Unfortunately for them, voters generally apply a higher standard.

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