Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Attitude, policy and politics

Bret Stephens describes the difference between attitude and policy -- why a country's attitude can or cannot become its policy and the ramifications of being unable to effectuate your attitude in policy. That is, Belgium can constantly state that it is for a Free Tibet, but cannot actually DO anything to free Tibet because it has no ability to effectuate its attitude into policy.

Stephens explains the connection between policy, attitude, Israel, the EU and the US:

Here again, the contrast with the US is instructive. The Clinton State Department wrestled mightily with the question of whether genocide was taking place in Rwanda in 1994 because to call it genocide (as opposed to "acts of genocide") meant triggering treaty obligations that would, in turn, require some kind of intervention. This ended up entailing some ignominious evasions by the US. But the relevant point was the assumption that to have an attitude meant having a policy – a serious policy.

That assumption simply doesn't exist in Europe today . . . So it issues statements of concern because that's about all it can do. Not only is its capacity dwarfed by its attitude, its capacity for policy is diminishing at the same time its attitudes are expanding. (Of course Europe could expand capacity by investing in military resources, but that's another story.)

Problems, however, arise when policy and attitude are contradictory. It's one thing to "care" about Darfur and do nothing about it because you can't. It's another thing to have, as France does, a no-holds-barred policy toward Islamic radicals in your midst, while condemning another country – say, Israel – for taking a similar approach in much more dire circumstances.

This smacks of hypocrisy. Indeed, it would be hypocrisy, if it could be said that France actually had a policy toward Israel – a lever with which it could realistically and meaningfully affect events here. But France has no such lever, and the EU doesn't either. What it has is attitude masquerading as policy. Thus the votes at the UN, the menace of a Belgian court, the hortatory threats of sanction in the European Parliament. The attitude is as hostile as the threat is hollow . . .

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