Jeffrey LewisDiplomacy 101

What are we to make of these two statements, one by Senator Jon Kyl and the other by Representative Michael Turner?

A central tenet of the Obama Administration’s security policy is that, if the U.S. ‘leads by example’ we can ‘reassert our moral leadership’ and influence other nations to do things. It is the way the President intends to advance his goal of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons and to deal with the stated twin top priorities of the Administration: nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

A central tenet of the Obama Administration’s security policy is that, if the U.S. “leads by example” we can “reassert our moral leadership” and influence other nations to do things relevant to our nonproliferation goals.   It is the way the President intends to advance his goal of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons and to deal with the stated twin top priorities of the Administration: nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

No, I didn’t make a mistake. The statements are identical, save for the clause “relevant to our nonproliferation goals.”  Representative Turner plagiarized a passage from one of Senator Kyl’s speeches. Didn’t Joe Biden get in trouble for this?

Anyway, the plagiarism doesn’t really bother me.  We all know that members of Congress don’t write their own speeches. At least one of Senator Kyl’s staffers moved over to Representative Turner’s office, which may explain why Turner is now recycling Kyl’s old speeches.

What really bothers me is the use of punctuation — in English, inverted commas, also called quotation marks, are used for quotations. You know this, right?

But, as far as I can tell, Barack Obama never said such a thing.  Nor are these talking points used by Administration officials.  Senator Kyl, or someone on his staff, made them up.

Try the following search string: “reassert our moral leadership”

The only result is Kyl’s speech! No evidence that anyone in the Obama Administration made such a (silly) remark. If you think about it, the phrase does sound like a right-wing parody of a liberal perspective.

“Leads by example” is a pretty common phrase; not surprising it does appear in many contexts. Let’s restrict the search a bit more to nonproliferation.  Try these three (1|2|3).  One result — Susan Rice making a general point about US leadership.

I altered the search string until I finally found a lone instance of an Obama Administration official, Susan Burk, using “lead by example” (with no s) in a nonproliferation context.  The statement is self-congratulatory — look at all we’re going to do to lead by example — and not different in context than this remark by John Wolf, Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, in 2003.

My best guess is that someone simply made up both quotes, figuring the phrases sounded like something a liberal might say, then added the quotation marks to attribute them to the “Obama Administration.” Senator Kyl, after all, gave us the internet meme “not intended to be a factual statement.” Representative Turner then plagiarized the made-up quotations.

Perhaps the fabricator did hear the statements, or something very like them. I have noted before that this is the preferred calumny of those opposed to the whole business of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. Conservatives have repeated this nonsense so much, they may actually believe this is what liberals think.

What I actually believe — and presume others do as well — should be obvious: in negotiations with other countries, sometimes they ask for things in return. This isn’t “leading by example” or “reasserting moral leadership,” it is diplomacy. China, for example, won’t ratify the CTBT unless we do.  Sometimes, diplomats make side deals involving peripheral matters.  Other times, diplomats make unreasonable demands to stall. But sometimes they make demands because that’s what they want.  The reasons for specific positions may vary based on time and place. Some observable patterns in diplomacy, such as the emphasis on equity and reciprocity, may be better explained by cognitive psychology than international-relations theory. But when we ask for things, states ask for other things in return.

Who thinks otherwise?  Does anyone really think he or she can just walk into a room, table a draft treaty, then ask who wants to sign first?

Well, actually, that is precisely what the Bush Administration did at least once.  Steve Rademaker waltzed into the Conference on Disarmament on May 2006, released a draft fissile material cut-off treaty, said, “It’s all here,” and proposed that the States Party sign “by the end of this year.” (In case you were wondering, the end of the year for the CD in 2006 was September 15.)

Those, by the way, are not made-up quotes.  Rademaker actually said them, along with a few other barbs about “hostage taking” and “pet ideas.” I did, however,  make up the line in my blog post, stating that Article 1 said the States Party undertook to kiss Rademaker’s ass. You can steal that, if you want.


  1. Kingston (History)

    Given Kyl/Turner like to cite the conclusions of the bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States as the authoritative word on nuclear policy, I did a quick search of the Commission’s final report for the words “by example” and found these interesting lines:

    “Lead a global initiative on [nuclear] transparency, addressing both warheads and stockpiles, with the United States leading by example.”

    “Success in advancing U.S. nonproliferation interests requires U.S. leadership. Leadership requires leading by example.”

    And finally though you wont find it under the search words “by example” here’s another statement relevant to this discussion:

    “Moreover, at a time when the United States is considering how to reduce nuclear dangers globally, it is essential that it pursue cooperative, binding measures with others. In view of the prospective START negotiations and the U.S. role in extending deterrence to
    others, substantial unilateral reductions in operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads would not be wise. The Commission does not believe that unilateral nuclear reductions by the United States would have any positive impact on countries like North Korea and Iran. But some other nations may not show the nuclear restraint the United States desires or support nonproliferation efforts if the nuclear weapon states take no further agreed steps to decrease their reliance on nuclear arms.”

  2. anon (History)

    The same shared staffer who recycles used speeches is known for making things up, repeating them often, then citing them as truth because they’ve been repeated often. And he knows, as he is doing this, that the basic statements are not true. He just believes that, by the sheer force of his personal animosity towards arms control, he can re-color the whole debate.

    I don’t know how to fix this. It won’t help to state and repeat statements that are actually true because he’ll just go with his own statements, even knowing they are not true.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Well, let’s not place too much emphasis on a particular staffer.

      First, staffers are hired by members. Whether a staffer serves a member well is not for us to decide. Kyl, recall, is the person who asserted that 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities related to abortion, then retreated to the defense that it was “not intended to be a factual statement.” Unless Kyl’s office assigns issues in alphabetical order — and the same staffer worked arms control and abortion — the problem is with Kyl.

      Second, I am not sure we can say the particular staffer has a personal animosity towards arms control. More likely, I would suspect, is that the staffer has no particular affection for arms control, and views the issue in terms of fealty to his bosses and his career as a partisan on the Hill. These are hardly unusual traits for a Hill staffer! If Kyl had decided to vote for New START, the staffer would probably have written those talking points as well.

      Obviously, I would prefer to see Mr. Turner’s statements laced with a little less bile — there was a letter to the editor that I can’t seem to find right now that I recall as being a special bit of unpleasantness — but at the end of the day, Mr. Turner signs them or at least signs off on the them. (Remind me to tell you my Dave Abshire autopen story one day.) If Turner wanted to make nice, he could simply ask the staffer to write a polite letter instead.

      My point is that “fixing” this problem isn’t a function of changing the staffer. Perhaps that might make a small difference at the margin, but there are broader factors at work than the personal animosity of one person.

  3. Cthippo (History)

    This is a symptom of the new reality in politics we find ourselves on. To put it succinctly, the truth is no longer really relevant in American* politics. You can make a demonstrably false but politically expedient statement and repeat it as fact, and get away with it. Never mind the people pointing out that your “fact” is untrue, you just accuse them of being politically motivated and go on saying it. It works, mostly because there are no universally accepted arbiters of truth anymore, and some conservatives have really run with this. Those on the left (of which I consider myself one) haven’t really come up with an effective counter-measure. How do you argue with someone who makes up facts on the fly and gets away with it? How do you argue when facts no longer matter? That is the question that seems to be defining American politics in the 21st century.

    *My apologies to anyone who is offended by my referring to the United States as “America”. I know we’re only one nation-state in a continent, but the arguement doesn’t flow as well otherwise.

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