Saturday, August 29, 2009

US "Strategic Communication" - Put up, or Shut up

The last day or two featured several reports on a "searing critique" by Adm. Mike Mullen on US "strategic communication." That critique has now been published on Foreign Policy's website - as has a summary and supportive comment from Harvard scholar (and foreign-policy "realist" Stephen Walt.

The title of Walt's piece says it all - or mostly so: "Actions speak louder than words." In other words, the US can do all the spinning, outreach, "strategic communicating" it wants, but it's what the US does, not what it says, that makes the most lasting impression and has the most impact.

That this statement comes from the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff ought to be a wake-up call in every office of Mrs. Clinton's State Department, and especially, every room in the White House of Mr. Obama - he of the stirring speeches and warm words of conciliation and engagement. Don't get me wrong; those are ever so important. But actions, and policies, have to be constructed to re-assure the audience that the US means what it says - about democracy, human rights, the value of human life, and, especially, justice.

That means that we don't write off Pakistani, Afghan, or Iraqi - or Iranian or Palestinian - civilians killed by US bombs or drones (or Israeli bombs, which, of course, are furnished with our US tax dollars) as "collateral damage" in the cause of some greater good or overarching good intentions. (As Walt notes, how often do we assume, "Hey, we're America! Our intentions are always just and good, because - hey, we're America!")

That also means that we don't cave in to racists like Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman on the question of settlement freezes, or colonizing East Jerusalem, or launching air-strikes against Iran. That Obama wants for his health reform the votes of senators and representatives who engorge themselves at the teat of AIPAC and make nice with the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Limbaugh-loving racists who swell the ranks of Christian Zionists, ought not to make a difference when it comes to the US's stance on democracy, human rights, and justice on the international stage.

If recent reports of deals with Netanyahu on settlement construction and upping sanctions vs. Iran are on-target, then Obama is wilting. This is crunch time for Mr. Obama. Either stay the course, or else please send your speech-writers home. Kumbaya is a very old song.

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