Saturday, August 04, 2007

Taking the Serious Person Award Off the Table

How is it that the adult and serious “Foreign Policy Community” seems so entirely silly? I’m thinking right now of the phrase “On the table”, as in when Obama did or did not suggest that nuking Pakistan was “on the table”. And this whole debate is silly, as it revolves entirely around the meaning of that phrase. Specifically the Foreign Policy experts take that phrase as meaning whether you would consider an action as any possibility. And that if you say that something is "off the table" that means you wouldn't consider it under any circumstance.

But that's not what that phrase means, and that's an entirely dumb interpretation. An interpretation that has been purposefully dumbed-down by the war-hawks, as a way of cowing non-war-hawks into also agreeing that these seriously dumb ideas are "on the table". And I suspect that this is the main problem with the "Foreign Policy Community", whoever they are. Because that community is unofficially chaired by war-hawks, and anti-war people are automatically excluded. So to be considered "serious" on foreign policy by these people, you either have to support war or admit that you'd be willing to support war under almost any circumstance. And that's kind of a loaded deck to use as a starting position of foreign policy. In essence, our foreign policy has been hijacked by the war-hawks.

But here's a good definition of what that phrase really means:
1. if a plan or offer is on the table, it has been officially suggested and is now being discussed or thought about. The offer on the table is an 8% increase on last year's wages. At 6 p.m. on Thursday 29 April, a new deal was put on the table.
2. if a plan is on the table, no one is dealing with it at present but it has not been completely forgotten. The committee agreed to leave the option to build a stadium in the city on the table.

See what I mean? If something is "on the table" it doesn't just mean that it's a possible option. It means that it's an official option that is being considered. And so if something is "off the table" that just means that it's not being discussed. But that doesn't mean that you're completely ruling it out or announcing that you won't use it. It just means that you're not talking about it.

And we all know what this means. If you're watching a movie and a character sets his gun on the table, he's making a statement to the other people at the table. Sure, he had the gun on him the whole time. But when he sets his gun on the table, he's clearly making a threat. It's not as threatening as him pointing it at the people he's sitting with, but it's not too far from that. You put your gun on the table to send a signal. And that's exactly how it works in foreign policy too. Everyone knows we have nukes. It's not really a secret. But saying they're "on the table" is clearly an explicit threat. And nobody likes to be threatened.

And the Award Goes To...Idiots

But what makes the Foreign Policy Community so silly isn't just that they misinterpret this phrase so entirely, but that they make such a big deal over phrases like this. For them, you are immediately considered "unserious" and a menace to our foreign policy if you don't use this specific phrase against any enemy they deem a threat. Who cares what your actual policy is. They insist that you say that everything is "on the table". So the fact that they have the phrase wrong is just the icing on their phrase-based idiocy.

But as I said, this isn't all of them being idiots. The more hawkish ones want this confusion. This isn't a mistake on their part. They really do want our nuclear threat to be expressed explicitly. They are making threats. And they want the world to feel threatened by us. And so they've used their position of power to force the rest of the Foreign Policy "experts" to adopt their usage, even though they don't mean it the way that hardliners do.

And so the idiots are the less hawkish members who adopt the framework of the hawks, but only as a means of aiding their resume. So that they can burnish their credentials with the prized "Serious Person" label that the Foreign Policy community only hands out to those willing to adopt their framework. I'm thinking of Hillary Clinton and that type. The ones who now regret their actions regarding our war in Iraq, but who are setting themselves up to make the same mistakes over and over again, if only to retain their title as Serious Person.

And that plays exactly into the hands of the hardliner hawks and seriously completely undermines a non-war-based foreign policy. I seriously doubt that Hillary truly thinks nuking Pakistan is a real option right now, but that won't stop her from using a phrase which tells Pakistan that she's considering it. Sure, she's using the hardliner's misinterpretation of that phrase, but it would seem that Pakistan is still using the original meaning and will react accordingly.

And so here we have Clinton, and apparently Obama, fighting each other over whether we should make explicit threats against an ally. And all because the hardliners altered the meaning of one phrase. And these are the people we call "serious". Great.

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