The Buzz

Rand Paul's Foreign-Policy Mad Libs

Over at the Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan has a piece that is a dead-on parody of more or less the entirety of America’s public discourse on foreign policy. Written in the style of a Mad Lib, it provides a template for justifying any and all policy prescriptions. Here’s a sample:

The fact is that [fact] is of global concern in an increasingly interconnected world. The implications for the United States specifically are not yet clear. But one thing that is clear is that growing [noun] cannot simply be wished away. The [current U.S. president] administration must do more to shape events on the ground, lest they [verb] in a manner that runs contrary to American interests. The danger of continuing to embrace an [adjective] approach to the issue would be hard to overstate. In the short term, it would almost certainly result in [overstatement of danger]. The long-term consequences could be more dangerous still.

There are a number of reasons why this satire works so well. One is definitely the writing style, which hits all the right buzzwords and clichés. But perhaps the most important is that it perfectly skewers the all-too-common tendency among U.S. commentators and government officials to rely on exaggeration and threat inflation. Each situation becomes characterized as “the greatest danger,” “an unparalleled threat” and so on.

For a real-life example of this trend at work, we only need to look at outgoing secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s testimony yesterday on Benghazi. In questioning, Rand Paul, a new member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the attack “the worst tragedy since 9/11.” (As if to preemptively deny that he was exaggerating, he immediately followed this up with the phrase: “And I really mean that.”)

Without diminishing the significance of the Benghazi attack or the four lives that were lost there, it should be immediately clear that this is nonsense. Consider, for example, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in which roughly a quarter million people were killed. Or, if we want to limit ourselves to American examples, consider the Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina, both of which had death tolls that outstripped Benghazi by orders of magnitude. Or Fort Hood, Aurora or Newtown—the list could go on and on. The point is simply that, assuming Paul was being serious and not just trying to score political points, his claim is both wildly inaccurate and represents the worst kind of Mad Libs–style thinking when it comes to foreign policy.