The FP Memo

Using Your Star Power

The movie industry's brightest stars should pick their foreign-policy roles carefully, stay far away from Davos, and avoid mixing their activism with celebrity gossip.

TO: Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, and Brad Pitt
FROM: Rob Long
RE: Planet Hollywood

Welcome to the fascinating world of foreign policy! It's wonderful that Hollywood has taken such an interest in world affairs -- the hotel lobbies and corridors of Davos have never been so glittering, and hotspots in Africa and the Middle East are sprinkled with stardust. Boffo kudos, as we say in the business.

The world, though, is a complicated and treacherous place. It's impossible, really, to convey the pitfalls and booby traps waiting out there as you venture far outside the 310 area code. Playing to the lefty Academy Awards crowd is fine, but that instinct may get you into trouble in, say, Caracas or Pyongyang. If you say something that delights a Fidel Castro or a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chances are it's going to go over badly back home -- and for good reason.

Still, your success in navigating the ferociously competitive world of Hollywood is the ideal training for global activism. Think about it: The entertainment industry is characterized almost entirely by shrieking egomaniacs, psychotic dictators, money-losing operations, clueless bureaucrats, corrosive nepotism, enormous travel allowances, and fraudulent accounting practices -- not unlike most large nongovernmental organizations, the World Economic Forum, and the continent of Africa. You are well prepared to succeed on the world stage. Just remember these five key points:

Try a Modified, Limited Bono: To be an effective advocate of anything -- immunizations, Middle East peace, women's rights, whatever -- you must first decide what you're not going to advocate. By entering the global fray, you're effectively trading on your name and your image, in other words, your brand. Think of yourself as an international brand and focus tightly on one, and only one, key issue.

As always, let Bono be your lodestar. In the 1980s, Bono represented a constellation of international causes -- opposition to apartheid, AIDS, the environment, world poverty -- and was an effective spokesman, frankly, for none of them. As the 1990s progressed, though, he began to focus more closely on a single issue, Third World debt relief, and he found that the more finely honed approach improved his effectiveness. By the early part of this decade, the rock-and-roll icon had managed to corral such unlikely allies to his cause as former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill. Bono's African road trip with O'Neill was a media sensation, and the image of the somewhat baffled O'Neill and the cool-cat singer in pink wraparound shades indelibly etched the idea of Third World debt forgiveness onto the global agenda. One idea, one brand, tight focus, tight leather pants. You really can't do better than Bono.

Notice, too, that his choice of issue has a clear-cut definition of success. Third World debt either is forgiven or it is not. Poor countries struggling under enormous debt burdens either will or will not find relief. Contrast that with, say, global warming, another one of Hollywood's pet issues. Whatever one thinks about climate change, it's almost certainly going to involve muddling through, demanding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in a few places and allowing it to go unchecked in others, for decades to come. A celebrity who chooses such an amorphous, open-ended issue will quickly become tangled up in messy domestic politics and hobbled by the indifference that inevitably accompanies such a long-term challenge. It's as silly as choosing "world peace" as your cause. As much as we admired your plucky initiative, Sean, your prewar tour of Iraq quickly became an international joke because of your credulous, childish appearances with members of the peace-loving Baath Party. Face it, world peace ain’t gonna happen. Debt relief, clean water in the sub- Sahara, and micro-loans for Bangladeshi women just might.

Don't Forget Your Training: Remember that sitting still, listening with an intent expression, and responding with pleasant but noncommittal murmurs are the hallmarks of a seasoned world leader. They are also what you as a movie star do best. Don't forgo the skills that got you where you are. As anyone who has ever seen Henry Kissinger make his way through the Four Seasons restaurant at lunchtime will tell you, the line between foreign policy and show business is thin.

Negotiating the international scene with purpose is hard enough. It gets even worse when people with different agendas distract you. When your convoy of Range Rovers blows into some dusty village, the new gray-water treatment plant you've come to see will have to wait until after the village children do a traditional dance, you've visited the clinic, officiated a soccer match, and greeted the local despot. Maintain a cheerful indifference to all of it: Remember, you're all about water (or whatever). You've sat through a lot worse, especially the time when you didn't win the Oscar and had to pretend, with a camera lens inches from your face, that you were truly happy for the winner.

As important as remembering your training is recalling your lack of training. Meryl Streep is a well-known fanatic about getting foreign accents just right. Philip Seymour Hoffman reportedly refused to come out of character when off set, so intent was he on becoming Truman Capote. But we all know how tiresome that kind of work can be, particularly when you're not getting paid for it. Brad, we've noticed you hanging around think tanks such as the Center for American Progress. Be forewarned that the time will come when you're too busy, too tired or, frankly, too bored to bond with a lot of star-struck geeks, at which point you'll be criticized and mocked for being an unserious dilettante. Who needs that?

Pick Your Co-stars Carefully: We return to the sterling example of Bono. He could have romped through poor African nations with Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Congressional Black Caucus, or just about any left-leaning political figure. Instead, he went with O'Neill, in an act of inspired casting. You know that everyone loves a buddy picture. But you also know that only one name fits above the movie's title -- yours. The challenge, then, is to choose a costar who makes you look good, and that is most effective when that costar is someone distinctly unglamorous. Send the message that you're serious about your issue; that party affiliation, bad tailoring, and physical unattractiveness are irrelevant to your passionate commitment to replacing large-scale International Monetary Fund-style macro-loans with small-bore, targeted micro-loans (to take one possible issue you might adopt).

Costars aren't always people. Sometimes they're locations. To put it another way: Every movie has a poster, an image, that crystallizes the thrust of the picture for the moviegoer. This is called the "one-sheet" of the movie and, as you know, no studio executive worth his $6,000 Kiton suit would greenlight a project without knowing, in advance, what the one-sheet is going to look like. Ask yourself the same question: what's the one-sheet for your trip to sub-Saharan Africa? Is it you, sleeves rolled up, staring meaningfully at a reverse-osmosis water-treatment facility, or you, semi-nude, lounging at the nearest Amanresort with your girlfriend? Keep the one-sheet clear and simple, and keep your activism and vacations separate. That means two trips. Don't piggyback -- "Well, since we're already here and we've seen the AIDS clinic, how about a quick trip to the Seychelles?" -- or you'll discover that the world press has printed up a one-sheet of its own. You won't like it.

Which brings up the whole question of Davos. Honestly, Davos is a no-win situation for you. You won't be the most famous person there; that honor will inevitably go to Bill Clinton. You won't be the richest; that honor will go to Bill Gates. You won't really get the respect or the attention that you deserve. It's sort of like going to the Oscars when you're not nominated. No matter how famous you are, people will wonder what, exactly, you're doing there. You'll be photographed in a swank hotel lobby with a lot of short men in dark suits. Someone will try to hire you to appear in a commercial in Bahrain. The scientists and techies will ignore you. The Economist will print something snarky about you. Davos is a terrible costar.

Get in Front of the Plot Twist: Every successful movie has a twist somewhere deep in the second act, usually around page 70 or 80 of the script. The bad guy is suddenly good, or the good guy is suddenly bad, or the bomb doesn't go off, or it does, or something. This happens in world affairs quite often, which is why it's crucial to avoid becoming an advocate of a person and instead promote a specific goal. Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a person; stable government for Haiti is a goal. Get the difference? (This is just an example. You can adopt a Haitian child, but please don't adopt stable Haitian governance as your issue. As outlined above, you need to pick something that might conceivably happen in your lifetime.)

Hollywood is a relationship business, of course. The web of friendships and shared histories that knit the town together keeps business humming. But we've all experienced the rush of panic upon hearing that the management team at a certain studio is out, and that the projects we had there are in "turnaround," or worse. The world is very much like a poorly run studio. The trick here is to be friends with everyone without being dependent on any one political figure. As hard as it's going to be for you, Sean -- especially in the coming months, as relations between the West and Iran sour and you get those itchy, gotta-get-to-Tehran feet -- try to avoid being photographed with anyone who might later need to appear as a defendant in a war-crimes trial.

Do the Audrey Hepburn: When the offers started coming more slowly, and then only for older character roles, Audrey Hepburn packed up and moved out of town, out of one kind of show business -- movies -- and into another kind of show business -- worldwide advocacy for children. It was a smooth, sophisticated transition, and she slid into her new role with grace.

We all get old, and at a certain point there's only so much that can be done with jowls that droop, a neck that ripples, and eyes that are wrinkled into a permanent squint. The great thing about your new interest in world affairs is that when that time comes, when you've pulled your final modified, limited Bono, it's time to do the Audrey Hepburn and glide effortlessly into a life of world service. Before you know it, people will stop thinking of you as an actor or a movie star. You'll be a real diplomat. And those roles don't come around often.

The FP Memo

The FP Memo: Operation Comeback

Neoconservatives have the president's ear, but they also have lots of baggage. To stay relevant, they must admit mistakes, embrace public diplomacy, and start making the case for bombing Iran.

MEMORANDUM:
TO:
My Fellow Neoconservatives
FROM: Joshua Muravchik
RE: How to Save the Neocons

We neoconservatives have been through a startling few years. Who could have imagined six years ago that wild stories about our influence over U.S. foreign policy would reach the far corners of the globe? The loose group of us who felt impelled by the antics of the 1960s to migrate from the political left to right must have numbered fewer than 100. And we were proven losers at Washington's power game: The left had driven us from the Democratic Party, stolen the "liberal" label, and successfully affixed to us the name "neoconservative." In reality, of course, we don't wield any of the power that contemporary legend attributes to us. Most of us don’t rise at the crack of dawn to report to powerful jobs in government. But it is true that our ideas have influenced the policies of President George W. Bush, as they did those of President Ronald Reagan. That does feel good. Our intellectual contributions helped to defeat communism in the last century and, God willing, they will help to defeat jihadism in this one. It also feels good to see that a number of young people and older converts are swelling our ranks.

The price of this success is that we are subjected to relentless obloquy. "Neocon" is now widely synonymous with "ultraconservative" or, for some, "dirty Jew." A young Egyptian once said to me, "'Neoconservative' sounds to our ears like 'terrorist' sounds to yours." I am shocked to hear that some among us, wearying of these attacks, are sidling away from the neocon label. Where is the joie de combat? The essential tenets of neoconservatism -- belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted -- are as valid today as when we first began. That is why we must continue to fight. But we need to sharpen our game. Here are some thoughts on how to do it:

Learn from Our Mistakes. We are guilty of poorly explaining neoconservatism. How, for example, did the canard spread that the roots of neoconservative foreign policy can be traced back to Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky? The first of these false connections was cooked up by Lyndon LaRouche, the same convicted scam artist who spends his days alerting humanity to the Zionist-Henry Kissinger-Queen Elizabeth conspiracy. The second probably originated with insufficiently reconstructed Stalinists. To say that our core beliefs remain true is not to counsel self-satisfaction. We got lucky with Reagan. He took the path we wanted, and the policies succeeded brilliantly. He left office highly popular. Bush is a different story. He, too, took the path we wanted, but the policies are achieving uncertain success. His popularity has plummeted. It would be pigheaded not to reflect and rethink.

But we ought to do this without backbiting or abandoning Bush. All policies are perfect on paper, none in execution. All politicians are, well, politicians. Bush has embraced so much of what we believe that it would be silly to begrudge his deviations. He has recognized the terrorist campaign against the United States that had mushroomed over 30 years for what it is -- a war that must be fought with the same determination, sacrifice, and perseverance that we demonstrated during the Cold War. And he has perceived that the only way to win this war in the end is to transform the political culture of the Middle East from one of absolutism and violence to one of tolerance and compromise.

The administration made its share of mistakes, and so did we. We were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation. Did we fail to appreciate sufficiently the depth of Arab bitterness over colonial memories? Did we underestimate the human and societal damage wreaked by decades of totalitarian rule in Iraq? Could things have unfolded differently had our occupation force been large enough to provide security?

One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources, just as our execrable intelligence in Iraq seems traceable, at least in part, to the reliance on machines rather than humans. Our forte is political ideas, not physics or mechanics. We may have seized on a technological fix to spare ourselves the hard slog of fighting for higher defense budgets. Let's now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough and sufficiently well provisioned -- however "redundant" -- to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake.

Deploy More Than the Military. Recent elections in the Palestinian territories and Egypt have brought disconcerting results that suggest democratizing the Middle East may be more difficult than we imagined. That parties unappealing to us have done well should not in itself be a surprise. (After all, it happens in France no matter who wins.) But there is plenty of reason to wonder whether Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, once empowered by democracy, will simply turn around and crush it.

We need to give more thought to how we aid Middle Eastern moderates. They are woefully unequipped to compete with Islamists. When the U.S. government tries to help them, they stand accused of being American stooges. We can do more through private-sector groups, such as Freedom House, and partially private ones, like the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliates. They could use appreciably more resources to train journalists, independent broadcasters, women's advocates, human rights investigators, watchdog groups, and for civic education for various audiences, including imams. In relatively open countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and many of the Gulf states, funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative should make it possible for a range of American nongovernmental organizations to maintain a presence on the ground. And we should develop and fund training programs back at home that allow Middle Eastern democrats to come to the United States -- free of charge -- to hone their electoral, organizational, and public relations skills. James Carville and Karl Rove should be the titular heads of this program.

Fix the Public Diplomacy Mess. The Bush administration deserves criticism for its failure to repair America's public diplomacy apparatus. No group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that. We are, after all, a movement whose raison d'être was combating anti-Americanism in the United States. Who better, then, to combat it abroad?

The silver lining in the cloud of anti-Americanism is that every stuffy orthodoxy inspires some bright, independent-minded people to rebel. Like many of you, I receive a steady stream of messages from behind enemy lines, so to speak -- from France, Germany, Arab countries, and even the BBC -- saying, "The people all around me hate America, but I love America." These people, strengthened and inspired, are our best defense against anti-Americanism. We need representatives on the ground in every country whose mission is to find and develop such friends, to let them know we appreciate them, to put them in contact with others of like mind, and to arm them with information and talking points.

Today, no one in the U.S. Foreign Service is trained for this mission. The best model for such a program are the "Lovestonites" of the 1940s and 1950s, who, often employed as attachés in U.S. embassies, waged ideological warfare against communism in Europe and Russia. They learned their political skills back in the United States fighting commies in the labor unions. There is no way to reproduce the ideological mother’s milk on which Jay Lovestone nourished his acolytes, but we need to invent a synthetic formula. Some Foreign Service officers should be offered specialized training in the war of ideas, and a bunch of us neocons ought to volunteer to help teach it. There should be at least one graduate assigned to every major U.S. overseas post.

Prepare to Bomb Iran. Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office. It is all but inconceivable that Iran will accept any peaceful inducements to abandon its drive for the bomb. Its rulers are religio-ideological fanatics who will not trade what they believe is their birthright to great power status for a mess of pottage. Even if things in Iraq get better, a nuclear-armed Iran will negate any progress there. Nothing will embolden terrorists and jihadists more than a nuclear-armed Iran.

The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org. We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes. In particular, we need to help people envision what the world would look like with a nuclear-armed Iran. Apart from the dangers of a direct attack on Israel or a suitcase bomb in Washington, it would mean the end of the global nonproliferation regime and the beginning of Iranian dominance in the Middle East.

This defense should be global in scope. There is a crying need in today's ideological wars for something akin to the Congress for Cultural Freedom of the Cold War, a global circle of intellectuals and public figures who share a devotion to democracy. The leaders of this movement might include Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, and Anwar Ibrahim.

Recruit Joe Lieberman for 2008. Twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world. In 2008, we will have a lot on the line. The policies that we have championed will remain unfinished. The war on terror will still have a long way to go. The Democrats have already shown that they are incurably addicted to appeasement, while the "realists" among the GOP are hoping to undo the legacy of George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani both look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously and with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and our country needs. As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman? Lieberman says he's still a Democrat. But there is no place for him in that party. Like every one of us, he is a refugee. He's already endured the rigors of running for the White House. In 2008, he deserves another chance -- this time with a worthier running mate than Al Gore.