On Sunday The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada reviewed Mark Landler’s book on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and foreign policy. I’m working on a book about the Ideas Industry for American foreign policy, so this part of Lozada’s review amused me:
The administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which Landler describes as a “healthy collaboration” between Obama and Clinton, also produced a “bitter tug-of-war between those who tried to claim authorship.” It was almost comical, with Obama national security adviser Tom Donilon and Clinton both racing to produce thinky journal articles that would plant flags in the administration’s renewed focus on U.S. leadership in Asia. Donilon was writing an essay for Foreign Affairs but took too long to complete it. (“It became a joke because every month there’d be meetings about the Foreign Affairs article,” an aide told Landler.) Meanwhile, Clinton was drafting a piece for Foreign Policy on the same subject, even while some White House officials encouraged her to shift to a snoozier topic, like multilateralism. Clinton won, publishing “America’s Pacific Century” on Oct. 11, 2011, boasting of her multiple trips to Asia. “It might as well have said, ‘Clinton’s Pacific Century,’ ” Landler writes.
Certainly, Clinton was deeply involved in key aspects of the pivot, particularly in rebuilding trust with Chinese officials. Jim Steinberg, her deputy at the State Department, coined the phrase “strategic reassurance” to describe how Washington should manage ties with the emerging Asian power. (A rule of foreign-policy-making: Add “strategic” to any concept, and it’ll sound weightier.)
I laughed out loud when I read that bolded passage, because it has the virtue of being both funny and true. But it gives rise to a question: Is there a simple formula for coining a new foreign policy doctrine?
This is something that aspiring foreign policy wonks dream about, because sometimes these concepts actually matter. George Kennan’s doctrine of containment was pretty important. My good friend Evan Feiganbaum coined the term “responsible stakeholder” to describe how the United States wanted China to view the world, and it caused the Chinese to furiously research how to translate the term “stakeholder.”
Those are extraordinary cases, however. What if you just need a catchy name for a foreign policy doctrine and you don’t have the time to research it thoroughly? Or what if you’re working for a candidate who desperately wants to sound smart on this topic but just can’t pull it off?
Presidents have it easy, they can just attach their name to the word “doctrine”: Reagan Doctrine, Bush Doctrine, Obama Doctrine, etc. But most people are not the president.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is here for you grunt-level wonks:
The recipe for this is pretty simple. Good foreign policy doctrines consist of a fancy adjective preceding an important noun. So, here’s your three-step process for coining a vacuous but serious-sounding foreign policy doctrine.
1) Pick an adjective. Lozada is correct that “strategic” is pretty good. Here are some other possibilities:
(Side note: That last one is my personal favorite. Use “Westphalian” in a book or speech and foreign policy thinkers get all weak-kneed.)
2) Pick a noun. Some possible examples:
3) Do you need a “neo”? Does the doctrine sound familiar? Can you affix “neo” to the adjective, like “neoliberal” or “neo-Westphalian”? Then go for it!
And that’s pretty much it. I wouldn’t recommend combining the adjective and noun that rely on the same root — I just don’t think “Sovereign sovereignty” will fly even if you add a “neo” to it. But to each his own!
If I’m doing my math right, the above formula will give you 120 possible foreign policy doctrine names — twice that if you add the “neo”! Some of them, such as “strategic patience,” already have been used. Others, like “neo-Westphalian integration,” are oxymorons just waiting to be applied to some situation in world politics.
Good luck, wonks!