Facts, Fundamentals, and Foreign Policy

Editor's note: in the rush of early semester activities, I failed to post in a timely manner this guest contribution from Jeffrey Scholes, who is finishing his PhD at Denver University. So, although a bit late for the news cycle, here is his take on Hillary Clinton and what constitutes a faith-based foreign policy.

Facts, Fundamentals and Foreign Policy
by Jeffrey Scholes

Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State was notable not because there was much doubt in the outcome but for what she said. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99290981&ft=1&f=1003

In it we find not so much a brazen, novel path to be forged by the new administration into foreign lands but more a statement of contrast to the approach of the Bush administration.

Here’s a quote from Clinton: “The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today's world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.”

On the surface, heads nod unconsciously to this statement. Yet it is code for, “The Bush administration acted with emotion and prejudice fueled by a rigid ideology in a spirit of utter American independence.” She is largely echoing Obama, especially on the “facts and evidence” part that is based on the popular belief that the Bush administration deliberately glossed over facts and evidence (lack of WMD in Iraq) with the aid of a neo-con ideology that pushed the declaration of war.

Several thoughts: On one level, this point of contrast made by Clinton is overstated. Facts and evidence, of course, mattered to the Bush administration—it is nature of the interpretation that bothers the left. But no one is naïve enough to think that the Obama administration will only deal with raw, unmediated facts and evidence. It will interpret on an ideological grid too. In addition, the other theme of Clinton’s hearing is that there will be a restoration of American values regards foreign policy (diplomacy not commands, interrogation without torture, etc.)—a card from generally played off of the Republican deck.

Most interesting about the “just the facts, ma’am” rhetoric is that it plays on a hundred and fifty year historical divide between Evangelicals and liberal Christians/secular modernists. With evolution forcing each group into separate camps in the later 19th c., the “facts” of evolution were largely subordinated or dismissed altogether by Evangelicals and later fundamentalists in favor of acting on a clear moral conscience. The “world” came be identified with scientific facts and its burgeoning ideology when set of principles that can guide action was all that was necessary. Then, the external results, which translate quickly into facts, are far less important than the internal foundation off of which decisions were made. It is this “internal moral conscience vs. external facts” that constitutes the core of Clinton’s remarks and speaks to frustration of those on the left when Bush defends results by saying, “I merely acted on principle.”


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