The US State Department’s rapid transformation from an organisation whose principal aim was to carry out diplomacy with foreign governments to one which acts as the ‘tip of the spear’ of an American-led liberal values crusade continues apace. In the months since US president Joseph R. Biden appointed his longtime aide Anthony Blinken as US Secretary of State, the department has issued a number of diktats that seek not to further State’s traditional role of serving as an interlocutor and negotiating partner with foreign allies and adversaries, but to act as a kind of cheerleader for liberal American values abroad.
In April, Blinken’s State Department granted a “blanket authorization” to embassies around the world to fly the rainbow LGBTQ+ Pride flag “for the duration of the 2021 Pride season.” A month later, the department authorised the raising of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag to mark the one year anniversary of the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. In a statement accompanying the decision, Blinken asserted that: “For the United States to be a credible force for human rights around the world, we have to face the realities of racism and hatred here at home.” How flying a BLM flag over the US embassy in Cambodia furthers that goal, Blinken did not say.
The American government’s proclivity to promote liberal values abroad in the furtherance of its foreign policy aims is not exactly new. For decades, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has, at the behest of Congress, released so-called human rights report cards on foreign counties that are, in its view, failing to measure up to the high standard it credulously seems to believe is set by the United States.
The decision to make US embassies and consulates abroad actors in what is after all a domestic culture war seems ill thought out at best. The decision by U.S. embassies to hoist the LGBGT+ Pride flag seems designed not so much to further diplomacy with the host governments, but is instead meant to send a message to those governed by social conservatives.
Indeed, the relatively recent liberal enthusiasm for designating foreign countries that are merely conservative or practice what U.S. elites perceive to be a less-than-enlightened politics as adversaries is a dangerous one. That is because it opens the door wide-open to neoconservative ideologues who need no encouragement whatsoever to add to their list of targets in their regime-change fantasies. In this way, liberal cultural imperialists like Blinken only serve to provoke the jingoism and militarism of the US foreign policy establishment.
The U.S. would be far better served if it abandoned its self-appointed role as a global values hall monitor and instead embraced a narrower, indeed humbler, conception of diplomacy. We might do well to recall the warning of the legendary scholar-diplomat George F. Kennan who once wrote that diplomats should avoid “the histrionics of moralism” by which he meant “the projection of attitudes, poses, and rhetoric that cause us to appear noble and altruistic in the mirror of our own vanity but lack substance when related to the realities of international life.”