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What if foreign policy doctrines were treated like prescription drug ads?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

This product image provided by Merck shows the packaging for newly FDA-approved allergy medications Grastek, left, and Ragwitek. Now just imagine if foreign policy gurus had to advertise their doctrines under the same guidelines as Merck. (AP Photo/Merck)

I’ve watched enough sports programming to be on the receiving end of a variety of prescription drug advertising on television, and I’ve slowly come to appreciate the absurdism of the genre. From the scary dystopia of the depression ads to the late middle-age utopia of the erectile dysfunction ads, these one-minute mini-plays exist on some bizarre plane where young people fear the outside world until they become older people who have plenty of time for yoga and dancing to jukeboxes.

My favorite part of these ads, however, is the Food and Drug Administration-mandated statement of the risks associated with using the drug.  Always spoken in a sotto voce, business-like voice listing the various risks to life, limb and pregnant women if they take the advertised drug. And no matter how much the risks are downplayed, they do tend to vitiate the selling power of the ad.

I’m bringing all of this up because, as both the Obama administration and elements of the Republican Party scramble to articulate some kind of foreign policy doctrine that will appeal to the American public, they only accentuate the positives of their preferred approach.  Advocates of a shift in American foreign policy never mention the possible risks associated with their preferred doctrine.

So what would an ad for, say, neoconservatism look like if the Foreign Policy Initiative had to comply with FDA requirements?

[Interior shot of middle-aged man at a restaurant table wearing a t-shirt with an American flag emblazoned on it, ignored by all of his friends at the table.]

ANNOUNCER:  Are you finding it tougher to earn respect from your friends and enemies?

[Exterior shot of same man pointing to tourist map, wife and kids ignoring his advice and heading in opposite direction.]

ANNOUNCER:  Have you noticed that your ability to lead seems to be on the wane?  You might be suffering from low H, a condition common among middle-aged superpowers. Waning levels of hegemony can cause other countries to no longer fear and respect you, allies to complain about a sense of abandonment, and violent non-state actors to mock you in videos.

[Exterior shot of same man swallowing HEGEMODIUM D]

ANNOUNCER:  With Hegemodium D, these problems will be a thing of the past!

[Exterior shot of same man firing a handgun at a shooting range.]

ANNOUNCER:  Hegemodium D restores your sense of purpose, and increases your willingness to act boldly and clearly.  With Hegemodium D, you set the example for others.

[Montage of same man confidently offering directions to others seeking his advice, then at center of attention at restaurant table as everyone laughs at his jokes and all of the women at the table try to touch his forearm.]

ANNOUNCER:  Hegemonium D:  the cure for Low H!

Now if the ad ended there, it would be just like the current state of foreign policy discourse. But by FDA rules, the following paragraph would need to be added:

ANNOUNCER:  Side effects of Hegemonium D include vision problems, particularly a tendency to minimize the risks of military intervention and to exaggerate the supposed dangers of inaction.  Hegemonium D can cause belligerent behavior in close proximity to others.  Do not take Hegemonium D if you are also suffering from a bloated budget deficit.  Please consult your public opinion pollster before you take Hegemonium D.  If your polling shows low tolerance for overseas military adventures, do not take Hegemonium D.

See how easy that is?

[Oh, sure, pick on neoconservatism. What about other foreign policy doctrines?!–ed.] Consider this the first of a series.  FDA-compliant ads for other foreign policy doctrines will be forthcoming over the summer.

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