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Nothing quite concentrates the mind as reduced circumstances. Or should. Artists (often after the fact) claim limitations unleash creativity. American foreign policy is therefore by all rights on the cusp of a truly focused renaissance. Were that it was so.

Henry the K’s intern du jour ghost writes for him in todays ‘International Herald Tribune’ that we have a chance yet again for a — are you ready? — New World Order. In a nutshell, it’s a Chinese fortune cookie — “Chaos everywhere. Situation excellent.”

Henry’s intern does give a perceptive description of the new Administration’s opportunity and a warning:

The extraordinary impact of the president-elect on the imagination of humanity is an important element in shaping a new world order. But it defines an opportunity, not a policy.

The ultimate challenge is to shape the common concern of most countries and all major ones regarding the economic crisis, together with a common fear of jihadist terrorism, into a common strategy reinforced by the realization that the new issues like proliferation, energy and climate change permit no national or regional solution.

The new administration could make no worse mistake than to rest on its initial popularity. The cooperative mood of the moment needs to be channeled into a grand strategy going beyond the controversies of the recent past.

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Henry leaves out the non-trivial part – what is the grand strategy to achieve this kumbaya? His vaunted Central European Realpolitik is absent. Instead we get a call for China as an essential co-pillar along with the United States in creating global political networking as transparent and fast as economic globalism. Hardly novel. Or easy to envision.

True, in 1970 Henry’s vision (woefully premature and wishful) of a pentapolar world view did explode on the scene. But China in 2009? And how does one woo a Beijing holding so many potent hole cards? Even Henry’s ghostwriter acknowledges that China has many options before it besides continued subsidies of American dissipation. For example, creation of an Asia-centric core political-military sphere of influence using ASEAN +3. Or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in which Beijing seeks to integrate the former Soviet central asian republics within its strategic ambitions. What precisely does Beijing gain from continued American scrambles for fading hegemony?

We agree the U.S. faces a fast closing window of opportunity for different reasons. An essential (in our view) initiative to re-align U.S. policy with resources, present and future interests will be fleeting. Too many rice bowls are threatened in Imperial City fiefdoms and abroad. The day-to-day process grind in D.C. is remorseless. Before long inertia will drown creative impulses and traditional institutional advocates will mire the new administration in servicing the same post-1945 constituencies from the American Imperial periphery.

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Perhaps we are too jaded. At least all will unfold with new slogans. Joe Nye deserves a hat tip. He missed a promising career at Proctor and Gamble marketing as he unveils another catch phrase for the Kalorama circuit. This time the U.S. needs ‘smart power’ — moving beyond his earlier branding efforts of ‘soft and hard power’ (hard on permanent press garments by all accounts). What ‘smart power’ is other than avoiding the Warlord’s hyper-militarization perhaps awaits unveiling ‘Smarter Power 2.0’.

If one reads his summation of ‘soft power’ at the link above, are we alone hearing ‘Dr.’ Phil’s twang? Nontheless, as marketing meme Nye’s formulation is inspired. Who wants to argue for ‘Dumb power’? That’s how we always created titles for legislative vehicles we shepparded through Congress. You know, like they did with the ‘PATRIOT Act’, etc. Nye’s meme is brilliant stuff. Custom made for the Tweety set.

It’s also irrelevant. To what purpose is American power deployed in the world? HRC’s testimony today still is premised upon persistent American intervention (hard, soft or smart) seemingly everywhere and everywhen. Will international interventionism proceed apace with the new administration, albeit under different guise? To preserve the current (in our view) unsustainable U.S. global footprint? If so it matters little if the pursuit of American imperial hubris proceeds under PNAC/Neocon militarism, more muted tones or realism. ‘Smart power’ will be as ephemeral, unsustainable and inimical to our long term interests as the Warlord’s, albeit on different levels.

HRC at today’s hearing did offer a fleeting glimpse that she recognizes this. She mentioned the need for disciplined prioritization of interests and policy. And the political cost (but necessity) of deferment or rejection. Still, one can not escape noticing who she brings along with her to Foggy Bottom and their baggage. She also offers at least lip service to the ‘American moment’ (the word century being both politically and linguistically fraught, perhaps).

All in all change such as it is we nonetheless welcome. Intellect, tone, spine and substance — a nice break from General Jello and Cher Condi.


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