Smart power and other slogans

According to the next Secretary of State for the USA, Hillary Clinton, for whom I would probably have voted, I’ll admit, because I think American culture is too macho, and would have learned from having a woman leader – but what do I know? I’m British, and we had Thatcher – as I say, he says, starting the sentence again, according to Hillary, US foreign policy in the future will be characterised by ‘smart power’. I would have given a fistful of dollars, and a few dollars more, to see the light-bulb hovering above the head of the man, and I bet he was one, who came up with that slogan. Political leaders think we’re cretins. Unless something very complex can be distilled into a vacuous slogan, one which has the rhetorical whiff of grandeur about it, they can’t operate.

Smart power. Tough love. Shock and awe. Hard choices. The audacity of hope. Intelligent design. Surge. Dumbing down. Zero tolerance. New Labour. Flexible response. Fiscal prudence. Open government. Just war. Faith academy. Action plan. Affirmative action. Learning solutions. Sustainable delivery. Centre of excellence. Vorsprung durch technik…

The problem with ‘smart power’ is that it is just a memorable oxymoron masquerading as a statement of intent. There is nothing smart about power. There is nothing smart about having so much power that you can own as many nuclear weapons as you like, and use this as a pretext to tell other people not to own them. There is nothing smart about having so much power that you can treat the world like a head of hair which needs your own brand of shampoo. There is nothing smart about power which assumes the role of international traffic cop.

It is actually quite good fun thinking up slogans. All you need is an adjective and a noun (verbs are completely useless, which is why politicians avoid them like obstacles). Let’s see if we can help Hillary come up with some new ones:

Measured might. Hard listening. Tender muscle. Sweet surgery. Raw policy. Aggressive care. True defence. Honest strength. Dedicated eloquence. Straight intuition. Firm heart. Offensive charm. Cool fist. Calm incursion. Positive rage. Jingle bells.

I half-dread Obama’s inaugural speech, because I know that it is going to have a strong undertow of Kennedy-style charisma. It’ll be something like ‘We may have history behind us, but we have history before us, too. As at no other time in the future of the world, we have the world of the future in our time. And so we march, not sideways, nor backwards, but forwards into the destiny which has been shaped and smoothed by the passions of the past. For the past is our pathway into the present, just as the present is our gift to the next generation. Now is the moment to give to our children what we have denied our parents. Now is the moment, not to take simple stock of our long ambition, but to realise that ambition by reaching out to the unborn, by stretching our hands out to grasp the centuries that lie ahead. Now is the moment to make good our promises. We must do what we must, and what we must do, we will do, with all the fervent intelligence of the founding fathers and mothers, who drew from the well of their eloquence, and who gave to us the words which we will seek to turn, like magnificent alchemists, into the phrases and clauses of hope. There is no now, unless we make it. There is no then, unless we learn from it. There is no tomorrow unless we turn today into yesterday, and make every week a day, every day a minute, every minute a second.’

He can have that, if he likes. All I want is a footnote.


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