By Patricia H. Kushlis
Earlier this month, I gave a talk on the US Image Abroad and How It Can Be Fixed to the League of Women Voters here in Albuquerque. My first point was the need to drop the “War on Terror” metaphor from any new administration’s vocabulary.
The more I think about it, the more I become convinced – maybe it’s just me convincing myself – that the Bush administration’s war rhetoric is the first stumbling block this country needs to overcome to regain its reputation abroad.
I did not participate in the Blogger’s Roundtable with State’s new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy James Glassman a week ago Thursday because I was literally in the air between Houston and Reagan National at the time. I had nevertheless been chagrined by the overarching emphasis of fighting the war of ideas as laid out in at least one earlier Glassman-as-the-new Under Secretary speech and would have questioned him on it had I been at the other end of the phone.
What troubles me the most about America’s war rhetoric that the world has been subjected to – and the American people seduced by – since 9/11 is that it is a misnomer and a dangerous one at that. Painting the world in “us-versus-them” shoot-em-up vocabulary precludes dialog. It precludes mutual understanding. It also intimately relates to an exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary militarization of US foreign policy and foreign policy institutions that is at least partially responsible for precipitating the serious economic problems we currently face.
And above all, it is leading this country down the wrong track in dealing with the world effectively and obtaining the results we crave.
War of ideas? Oh, come on. Please spell them out. Radical Islam versus what? Or is it neocolonialism versus what? Democracy versus what? Lemonade versus orange juice? Now really but at least this latest, albeit poorly chosen metaphor, does not instantly evoke visions of an armed-to-the-teeth Mars speeding through the heavens or a mushroom cloud rising on the horizon.
Who are the protagonists and what are their aims? Is it really a simple “them versus us” equation? Fighting “the enemy over there” rather than having them crawl out from under our beds at home? (Remember the Commie-under-every-bed scare that, of course, never materialized? I kept looking but never found him or her although we did have bugs in the ceiling in our Moscow apartment during the Cold War.)
And is the military “solution” working? War, after all, is politics by other means – but in my view, military might should be used as the last resort, not the first – and the hyping of the war metaphor for either domestic or international political purposes has gone on for far too long, at too high decibels for too little gain.
A POSTSCRIPT: Well worth reading on Avuncular American: Jerry Loftus' "Obama Overseas: One Man Public Diplomacy Triumph."