Realism, neo-realism, neo-conservatism, democratic internationalism, hegemonism, multilateralism. How about just this: 'Don't shoot your mouth off if you can't back it up' ...
The various foreign policy schools each have points to recommend them. But a lot of effective statecraft comes down to grade school principles like these.
Paul Wolfowitz may be saying that he's wanted the UN in Iraq from day one. But those of us who are still reporting from the planet Earth know this is the exact opposite of the truth.
Stiffing the UN and threatening retaliation against key Security Council members may have been impolitic and ill-judged. But stiffing and threatening when you were going to have to come back to them six months later with hat in hand asking to get bailed out is just stupid.
I spoke this morning to a foreign policy insider who'd been to an off-the-record conference also attended by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Minister just after the end of the war. He confirmed what was at least informally obvious to everyone who was watching: that the French were practically pleading for us to let them in on the effort in Iraq as long as the halo of victory was still over us.
Now, not so much.
Nor is this the only instance of un-backed-up tough-talk that ends up making us look weak.
Look at North Korea.
A year ago, after North Korea admitted to working on enriching uranium for making nuclear weapons, the White House said, that's it. No more paying you off to behave. No more talk. No more nothing. It was a foreign policy equivalent of the famous moment in Godfather II when Michael Corleone tells Senator Geary: "My offer is this: nothing. Not even the $20,000 for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally."
And yet the last year has been a seamless repetition of the same pattern: bold ultimatum and threat, followed some weeks or months later by ignominious cave.
First we wouldn't negotiate; we wouldn't give them aid; and we wouldn't give them a security guarantee. They had to disarm and behave. Then maybe we'd talk.
Then we would talk, not but negotiate.
Then we would negotiate, but we wouldn't give them aid.
Then we would give aid, but only after the North Koreans disarmed.
Now, according to this morning's paper we're ready to "discuss a package of economic and energy aid even before North Korea completely terminates its nuclear weapons programs."
Clearly we've got them right where we want them.
Bluster that you can't make good on makes you look much weaker than if you'd never blustered at all.