The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Nuk-ya-lar Two-Step

October 5, 2008

As I always tell my World Politics 101 students, the word is “nuclear,” folks. Noo-clee-ahr. No such word as “nuk-ya-lar”!

Yet here we go, Sarah Palin on the stage pontificating about nukes (HT to Moira Whelan at Democracy Arsenal):

Seems like a silly thing to bitch about, eh? But goddammit, the thought of listening to my President or Vice-President further embarrass our country and belittle the incredible threat posed by these weapons by mangling that word for the next four to eight years, well, let’s just say my botherment is probably at least as disproportionate as the utility of nukes to any conceivable military objective.

Why is that, I’m asking myself? Why do I work so hard to make sure my students don’t reiterate this simple error in job interviews, an error for which they might, after all, be forgiven after listening to Washington for the last four years? Why do I fixate on word pronunciation when the substance of Palin’s remarks was about nine zillion times as scary? (In case you didn’t notice, her answer to the question about nuclear use was an answer about non-proliferation – she clearly has no basic literacy in the nuances of nuclear policy discourse.)

So why sweat the details? Because it reflects on me when my students or my President sound uneducated in foreign affairs. Because of what it says about me as an American when I allow myself to be represented on the world stage by someone who, whether smart or not, simply doesn’t care enough about basic diplomatic protocols to do simple things like learn the vernacular. I’ve been embarrassed for four years by my President’s inability to form a sentence. Whether this is simply a strategy to make Palin look “folksy” doesn’t matter. Whether it actually reflects on her intelligence, irrelevant.

It is the image this communicates about Americans abroad that matters. The perception that we care so little about the rest of the world that we are willing to put the power to affect the entire globe into the hands of someone who seems not to care would be as damaging to our soft power abroad and our national security as any US policy. It is part of what makes [some] people abroad despise us, not just our leaders. I would be just as hesitant to vote for a Democrat who was so brazenly and callously indifferent to the basic rules and syntax of foreign affairs.

OK. Rant over for now.

Update: OK, OK, Mike Innes has definitively proven that my statement that “people abroad despise us” for electing idiots, not just the idiots we elect, was an exaggeration… only some people abroad do.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.