I never understood the term "limousine liberal." I grew up down a dirt road in rural Maine. During mud-season we parked our car where the pavement ended and walked the mile to our house. Limousines had no role in my childhood. Liberalism, yes, to an extreme, but limos, I had no clue about limos.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, however, is enlightening me. There are two problems with America’s second youngest UN Ambassador and limos may be the lesser concern.
First, Ambassador Rice has no real world experience. Her life has been lived in protected environments of an elite Washington family with silver-plated private schools and probably more than a few limos. She never spent extended period of times in the developing world with service to the Peace Corps or faith-based groups; never, it appears, has she lived beyond her comfortable wealth.
One cannot be a “foreign policy expert” unless one has lived, intensely, in foreign places. Trips to Paris or Jamaican vacations aren’t it. As odd as the Brits can be, time at Oxford doesn’t cut it nor does a few years spent in Canada.
Foreign policy expertise is based on a radical shift of understanding the world beyond the American/Western paradigm which occurs after about a year, or more, of blood, sweat and tears in places like Tajikistan or Mozambique.
Rough, real-world experience also endows a critical chess-playing-ability to match wits and develop counter strategies so necessary in foreign policy practice. For example, Russia is a rival at the UN that Ambassador Rice seems ill-equipped to match.
So is this a limousine liberal: someone who pretends to be down-with-the-people while jumping, very quickly, back into their limousine or land cruiser?
Then, there's the second charge often lobbied at liberals; hypocrisy. Wait, the Republicans are the hypocrites not us, the Democrats. Again, Ambassador Rice’s tenure at the UN is opening my eyes.
When President George W. Bush held office (I admit I was not a fan) Ambassador Rice published an essay in The Washington Post, “We Saved Europeans. Why Not Africans?” She discussed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and asked why the Bush administration refused to use military force to save Africans in Darfur as the Clinton administration had done to “save Europeans in Kosovo.” Maybe she doesn’t realize Syria is President Obama’s Kosovo.
What about the genocide in Rwanda? Rice said, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side for dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” She vowed “I would rather be alone and a loud voice for action than be silent.”
Yet, when she worked for President Clinton on Rwanda she said “if we use the word genocide and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”
Ambassador Rice, be careful what you ask for—for you will certainly get it. Your wish was granted. I don’t see any flames except those destroying children’s homes in Syria. I hear no lone or “loud voice” fighting for action to protect the lives of innocents being slaughtered in Syria by Russian helicopter gunships or in the cross hairs of snipers.
Do the elections in November matter more to you now, as they did during the Rwanda genocide, than the Responsibility to Protect Syrian children?
So, is this what people mean when then call they Obama administration hypocrites?
If there were any leadership in the White House, Ambassador Rice would quietly resign and be replaced with someone who has integrity and real foreign policy experience.
But the fish, it seems, stinks from the head.
President Obama has surrounded himself with people who are just like him. In any case, he seems too busy fund-raising from Air Force One to worry about governing.
Ambassador Rice may be right after all. What about November, indeed. How many liberals will refuse to get into the limo with President Obama? I have to wonder.
There is no room for hypocrisy in America’s global leadership when crimes against humanity are at stake, as they are now in Syria. “America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world.” Those are President Obama’s own words in Foreign Affairs outlining the “visionary leadership” he would provide America if he were elected president.
Pollsters estimate that just four percent of the American electorate casts their votes based foreign policy. Those precious four percent are votes President Obama can ill afford to lose. Based on his failing foreign policy in Syria, he may have already lost them.
Lori Handrahan is a professor at American University's School of International Service. She serves on UN's Inter-Agency Standing Committee (ISAC) working groups on humanitarian response and worked for UNHCR in the Balkans and Chad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.