Shadow Government

Geroge Bush's straight talk

By Dov Zakheim

Many years ago, my family huddled around our television watching Lyndon Johnson announce that he would not run again for president. My late father said he didn't believe Johnson; that's how much Johnson's "credibility gap", as it was then euphemistically called, had sunk into the psyche of average Americans. Whatever else one might say about George W. Bush, no one can assert that he is devious, or dissembling; no one can doubt that, from his first day in office to his farewell address, he has always meant, and believed in, what he has said.

In his brief address, the president made it clear that what concerns him the most is the nation's security. He is proud that there has not been another terrorist incident since 9/11; proud that he created the Department of Homeland Security; proud that he has transformed the military and the intelligence services. He truly believes that it is the mission of the United States to spread freedom to every nook and cranny around the globe, to transform societies everywhere. I did not do a "word count," but it seemed that the word "freedom" was repeated more often than any other. And he remains an internationalist in the broadest sense of that term, strongly advocating free trade and viewing isolationism and protectionism as two sides of the same coin.

The President devoted few words to domestic issues, including the current economic crisis. His priorities were clear: his focus was on America's role in the world.

The President has often said that history will be the ultimate judge of his record. Indeed, many historians have already rushed to render a negative judgment of that record. But there can be little doubt that George W. Bush remains as comfortable in his own skin as ever he has been, and that he truly believes that, in the cosmic battle between good and evil, he has stood firmly, squarely, and consistently, on the side of what is "good."

Shadow Government

Smart power: just another way to say"dumb Bush"

By Philip Zelikow 

Perhaps the only aspect of Senator Clinton's confirmation hearing that will be remembered even a week from now is her choice, which I presume to be considered, to offer up "smart power" as a catchphrase to describe the administration's approach to foreign policy. At least for now. The president-elect could instantly supersede it next week.

Chris Brose is right to call attention to this and right again in pointing to the inherent superficiality of the concept. But the usage is nonetheless interesting. It reveals a reflex, and a conceit.

The reflex is the reaction to the administration of the current President Bush. Though they did not coin the phrase, Joe Nye and Rich Armitage deliberately did what they could to popularize it. Nye and Armitage sensed the phrase would catch on because, at that time, it expressed so well a reaction they and others felt so deeply. Whatever the administration's broad purposes, which might not be so bad, Nye and Armitage believed the administration had been startlingly incompetent. Indeed, they thought the administration had displayed such astonishing incompetence at a few critical tasks (like the Iraq war) that the general reputation and credibility of the country had been badly damaged. So the reflex was to say, in essence: Whatever it is you are trying to do, for God's sake get serious. Be professionals. They were offering the think-tank equivalent of a dope slap.

There was also a conceit embodied in the phrase, "smart power." The conceit is interesting because it is so characteristic of contemporary American political life and scholarship in its preoccupation with process. Process shaping substance (this is the underlying premise of what political scientists somewhat confusingly call 'rational choice' theory); process trumping substance; and -- quite often -- process actually being the substance. Talking -- or talking in a certain way -- as, in itself, the solution. Or at least therapeutic.

So no surprise that a team of highly experienced people, having lived through the Bush years, might feel that 'smart power' is a term that really captures the contrasting vision they offer. It was an appealing way of saying: "They were kinda dumb or at least blinkered; we're smart and open-minded. They weren't clever and professional enough to use all the tools; we will."

No one should take much offense. After all, hasn't every new administration found some way of saying the same thing as they were coming in? But that reflex and that conceit are just the preface to a narrative. They're not a thesis.

And, though naturally I like the notion of "liberty under law" that Anne-Marie Slaughter has sought to popularize, I don't think that phrase exports well. Nor do I think it adequately encompasses the great issues of this moment in world history, which have more to do with unprecedented global forces and how primary communities will confront or manage them. I've published my ideas, and candidate phrase ("an open, civilized world"). But we can return to such first principles another time, perhaps after our new President has had his say next week, on January 20.