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What is David Rothkopf smoking?

What is David Rothkopf smoking?

By Christian Brose

If you haven’t yet read David Rothkopf’s article in yesterday’s Washington Post, I’ll save you the headache. Claim: Hillary Clinton is "overseeing what may be the most profound change in U.S. foreign policy in decades." Evidence: She engages with emerging powers, believes diplomacy isn’t just about working with governments, plays well with others, wants to get more money for the State Department and to "rethink development" (confirming or even naming a director of USAID would be a good start), hires a Goldman veteran to take on State’s economics portfolio (unlike Reuben Jeffrey, right?), is "leaving behind old doctrines and labels" (presumably for newer, less descriptive ones), and is harnessing the "new" power of cell phones and the interwebs. What is of value here is distinctly non-revolutionary; the rest is just hot air and shameless ass-kissing. Presumably it is designed to help Clinton. Well, with friends like these…

It would be one thing if these claims were made by, say, my mom — and if she wrote them in, say, an email. But how is it possible for anyone who thinks and writes about foreign policy for a living — anyone who has not completely and unquestioningly drunk the Obama kool-aid, or who isn’t financially obligated to sell it — to think that Hillary Clinton, or even Barack Obama, is transforming U.S. foreign policy? I’ve been droning on for 10 months now about how this administration would largely continue most of the foreign policy it inherited from its predecessor, and Rothkopf’s attempt to argue the opposite case proves my point better than anything I’ve yet written. Apparently Rothkopf was one of the many members of the foreign policy hoi-polloi that went into intellectual hibernation in 2004 and only awoke this January.

Otherwise he would have recognized that, as Clinton continues to "rethink development", she’ll mostly be building on the thinking behind Bush-era advancements like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the foreign assistance reform process, the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The same goes for "rethinking the very nature of diplomacy." It’s already been rethought. And the hard part isn’t getting more resources, but enacting the (often unpopular) reforms that most now agree need to happen.

Had Rothkopf  been paying attention these past few years, he also might have recognized that many of the new diplomatic partnerships to solve those global, transnational problems that Obama and Clinton talk about so often — dare I say, the "minilateralism" agenda — were Bush administration creations: not just the G-20, as Rothkopf concedes, but also the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Major Economies Forum on Energy Security and Climate Change, the GCC+2, the P5+1, the Quartet (and the Arab Quartet), the Global Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, the Six Party framework, etc., etc.

He might have understood that America’s new strategic relationships with emerging powers are also a Bush-era inheritance. As is the recognition of what Rothkopf calls "the indispensability of collaborating with others." (For example, he quotes approvingly from Clinton’s CFR speech: "We will put special emphasis on encouraging major and emerging global powers — China, India, Russia and Brazil, as well as Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa — to be full partners in tackling the global agenda." Sounds good to me, but I thought it sounded even better four years ago in the original Condi: "In the 21st century, emerging nations like India and China and Brazil and Egypt and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history…. And the United States is working with our many partners … to build a true form of global stability, a balance of power that favors freedom.")

I could go on, but suffice it to say, this does not a transformation make.

What’s more annoying is that Rothkopf totally misses and even obscures the real point about Obama and Clinton’s foreign policy thus far: It’s not how much or how little they have changed things up until now, but what they have to show for their efforts. To be fair, it’s not nothing. They have cleared the air and signaled a fresh start, and recent polls confirm that many in the world are thinking better about America since Obama took over. That’s good, but actual cooperation has not always followed. Our NATO allies have passed on sending more troops to Afghanistan and on lifting restrictions on those already there. Nor are they and others lining up to help us close Guantanamo. India and China don’t share any of Obama’s enthusiasm for a climate change deal. Virtually the only thing we can agree on with Russia is that we should only have a couple thousand nukes between us. Pakistan is still dysfunctional and supporting terrorism. Iran and North Korea are all middle fingers and no unclenched fists. Time will tell of course, but rarely has a U.S. administration been so well liked, so eager to engage with others, and had so little to show for it.

This should be a helpful reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around America, even if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are leading its foreign policy. We still live in a world of nations, and those nations have interests, and where their basic interests clash with ours, these nations won’t be any more willing to compromise them for America’s sake. This trend is only becoming more pronounced, as all those big emerging powers grow bigger, and stronger, and richer, and more assertive in pushing their interests. This is today’s reality, and it has been mugging the Obama administration since January. If only reality would do a little more mugging of David Rothkopf. It might pull him out of his la-la-land and spare him future embarrassment.