Without a Theory, History Just Happens, Full of Problems and Disorder

July 07, 1994|By BEN WATTENBERG

WASHINGTON — I invited readers to submit ideas for a new foreign-policy slogan. (''Containment'' died when Soviet communism collapsed, and we need a new guidepost.) But readers have minds of their own. Instead of proposing what our new slogan (and policy) should be, many respondents put a label on what they thought the Clinton policy actually was. Herewith, the results.

Among the first entries were ''The New World Impotence,'' ''Symbolic Gesturism,'' ''Wimpism,'' ''Confusionism,'' ''Grandeur Moronism'' and ''Stanley Greenbergism'' (after President Clinton's pollster).

I thought that first small batch could be a sampling error. But as the entries poured in it was apparent that something else was going on. Here are some samples from the 120 descriptive entries:

''Unattainment,'' ''Surrealpolitik,'' ''Abdicationism,'' ''Clintonertia,'' ''Manifest Waffleism,'' ''Clintonian Superpowerlessness,'' ''Global Gliberation,'' ''High-School Diplomacy,'' ''Episodic Moralism,'' ''Bumbleitis'' ''Neo-Carterism,'' ''The Big Shtick'' (twice), ''Vacuumistic,'' ''Vacuous Slickism,'' ''Liberte!, Egalite! Stupidite!,'' ''Clintlock,'' ''Unhesitating Indecision,'' ''Undulated Ambivalence,'' ''Willie Waffle,'' ''Will Willie, Won't Willie?'' ''Backslidism,'' ''Mercurism,'' ''Big Blatherism,'' ''Non-Inhalationism,'' ''Naked Digression,''

''Steadfast Vacillation,'' ''World Waffling,'' ''Weak-Knee Warriorism,'' ''Explainment'' and ''Wishywashingtonianism.''

The words ''flip'' and ''flop'' appeared many times, as in ''Flip-Flop & Flim-Flam,'' ''Flipflopcracy,'' ''Fliplomacy'' and ''Flip Flopism'' (twice).

Mr. Clinton's use of the United Nations, and its secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, or vice versa, has not fared very well. Thus we have: ''U.N. -- Unemployed Nincompoops'' and ''Ghalivanting,'' ''Et tu Boutros,'' ''Ghali Gee'' and ''ClintUNationalism.''

A few entries may need explanation: ''Speak Bigly and Carry a Soft Stick'' (a Teddy Roosevelt knock-off); ''Vacillanimous'' (Vacillating and Pusillanimous); ''Bungeeism'' (hanging and bouncing around on end of cord often stretched to limits); ''FLUB'' (Foreign League of Undulating Bureaucrats); ''Widoid Ricsas'' (An ex-sailor's acronym for ''When in danger, or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout''); ''Good Talk No Stick'' (from baseball and Teddy Roosevelt); ''Ozark Wilsonianism'' (anonymously submitted in a National Security Council envelope, with neither word used in a complimentary sense), and ''It's George Bush's Fault'' (the problems were inherited).

Now, I think all this is somewhat unfair. But of the 120 entries, most accompanied by short essays, only one was clearly positive: ''Conciliation'' (from Ann Polek of Salisbury, Maryland).

So, the three winners, perforce, have a negative cast to them. And the winners are: In third place, ''Atleeism'' (from C. Braxton Valentine of Richmond, commemorating Churchill's empire-shrinking successor); in second place, ''Hesicrastination'' (from Walter Yose Jr. of Labarge, Wyoming); in first place, ''Lax Americana'' (from Andrei Bogolubov of New York City). They will receive prizes sufficiently small to avoid investigation by an independent prosecutor.

I think the bad-mouthing of the Clinton-Christopher foreign policy is valid but overdone. Yes, he's flipped on Haiti, Bosnia and China; yes, flip-flopping erodes credibility. But it's better to flip than to stick to wrong-headed campaign promises.

We looked bad in Somalia. I am concerned about the deep defense cuts. But that is not the whole story. Regarding the Middle East, Russia, South Africa, NAFTA and GATT, things have shown promise. And President Clinton has championed democracy rhetorically; don't think that doesn't count. North Korea is the big one -- and about that we shall see.

Presidential counselor David Gergen has just moved to the State Department, where he will serve as a special adviser to Secretary of State Warren Christopher while keeping an office and similar title in the White House. Part of his job will be to explain the positive aspects of Mr. Clinton's foreign policy. He has one great advantage in this endeavor. When the mail is 120-1 against, there's room for improvement.

Ben Wattenberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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