Madeleine Albright has been everywhere in her adopted home town of Denver this week. The former Secretary of State and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the hard-core Wilsonian who was central in transforming Bill Clinton's second-term foreign policy from cautiously scattershot to Munich-invoking liberal-interventionist, is playing a weird role in Barack Obama's Democratic Party.
This is a time when left-of-center anti-war sentiment is high enough that a relatively unknown Chicago pol croaked the Hillary Clinton machine largely because he was the only major anti-Iraq War candidate in the race. It's a time when Democrats are falling all over themselves criticizing George W. Bush's Russia-provoking recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. And yet the main architect of the Kosovo War—a sovereignty-busting conflict that, unlike Iraq, had no congressional support whatsoever, and much less support at the United Nations—is at the center of rebuilding the Democratic foreign-policy messaging and approach.
You'd think that such a disconnect between anti-war base and pro-interventionist leadership would cause a few brains to explode, but the only people who seem to be hearing the dissonance in Denver are journalists.
True, the foreign policy discussion here is exponentially more robust and well-intended than at the last two Democratic conventions. At each event, no matter who the speaker—Albright, Bill Clinton, Richard Danzig, Richard Holbrooke, William Perry—you will almost definitely hear the same areas of agreement. These are:
1) The U.S. needs to restore its shattered moral authority in the world, and rebuild alliances based on a more collaborative approach.
2) We need to take the war on Al Qaeda more robustly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
3) Climate change (for the better) and "energy independence" are central to foreign policy.
4) So is "global inequality," "income disparity," and "the growing gap between rich and poor." Oddly, this particular line is never followed up with, "And that's why we need to reduce domestic farm subsidies and take down global trade barriers.
5) Nuclear proliferation is a big problem, and we need to cooperate on it with Russia.
6) The military needs to be rebuilt, expanded, and re-tooled to handle more nation-buildy, soft-power type of chores.
7) More money for diplomacy and translators!
Some of these things are indeed important, and might well make this world a better place, ip doo tan.
But they sidestep the fundamental questions that, you'd think, Democrats (and the rest of us!) want answered. Such as: When do you go to war, and why? Are we still to be the "indispensable nation," with all the responsibility and presumption that comes with it, such as preventing mini-Munichs all over the globe, including such non-Munichs as dictators slaughtering their own people? What happens when all this groovy "collaboration" stuff doesn't produce desired results?
The answers to such questions over the past couple of days have been all over the damned map, even as the facade of unity has continued to obtain. For instance, on the question of America's unipolar role, today Albright gave a luncheon speech that:
A) fretted that the "economic center of gravity" continues to move away from the U.S.;
B) stressed that we need to "enhance America's ability to lead," because even though "the world may not be clamoring for American leadership" right now, "there is no doubt that a guiding hand is needed," in part to provide "a more effective response" to "violent extremism" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Sudan and Congo; and
C) pointed out that it will "take time" to convince people that "we're not imperialists."
This is not necessarily change that war-weary Obama supporters can believe in, and in fact it's much less change than a restoration of the liberal interventionism of Bill Clinton's second term.
On the other end of the Democratic spectrum, former Defense Secretary William Perry was acting like all Vladimir Putin's resurgent Russia needs is a big hug. "Russia really wants respect," he said at a panel Tuesday. "We start off by treating Russia with respect." Sorry, but wasn't Bush's whole man-love for Putin at the Crawford ranch more respect than the ex-KGB hack deserves?
Then there is Obama's foreign policy man Richard Danzig, who's a pretty funny and persuasive speaker, until you try to figure out whatever the hell he's talking about. At about minute 70 of his talk with Perry, Danzig unveiled the slogan and mindset that will lead Democrats to a glorious future of global leadership: "Sustainable security."
This is policy by empty politico sloganeering, not unlike having the still-alive Melissa Etheridge performing "Give Peace a Chance" to a crowd of ecstatic delegates who are about to vote for a party that has few intentions of doing anything of the sort.
Matt Welch is the editor in chief of reason and the author of McCain: Myth of a Maverick.